A new documentary examining the impetus for and preface to the trial of former prime minister (and current opposition leader) Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is a must-watch. The 45-minute, Hebrew-language film focuses on Case 4000, which creators Gilad “Gili” Goldschmidt and screenwriter Yoad Ben Yosef identify as the most serious of the three indictments.
Case 1000 involves Netanyahu’s allegedly having been gifted cigars and champagne from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer, in return for access and clout. Case 2000 is about Yediot Aharonot publisher Noni Mozes offering the prime minister favorable coverage, in exchange for help to curtail the circulation of the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Netanyahu never accepted the proposal. But he didn’t immediately reject it off hand. This, according to the indictment, enabled him to enjoy positive reportage during the time that Mozes believed such a deal was in the works.
You can’t make this stuff up – unless you’re the Israel Police and State Attorney’s Office, that is. Then you charge the “perpetrator” with fraud and breach of trust. And you add a bribery rap to the mix in Case 4000.
As the narrator of The Trial: Case 4000 Opens in Front of the Cameras recounts, “Our story seems to begin in October 2015, with the publication of an article in Haaretz by Gidi Weitz.”
The Netanyahu trial horror show
An excerpt from the piece in question appears on the screen, with the text: “For the past few years, [the online outlet] Walla has become the advertising site of the Netanyahu family... Meanwhile, Communications Minister Netanyahu [a role he also held at the time] is assisting the site’s owner, businessman Shaul Elovitch, to obtain approval for a transaction, and holding up a reform that would benefit the Israeli public, yet do serious harm to [telecommunications company] Bezeq, which [Elovitch] owns.”
THE NARRATOR continues: “In the wake of the article, a report is released by the State Comptroller, and a police investigation is launched. But there are those who contend that the roots of the story go far deeper.”
Among these are the film’s numerous interviewees, a host of legal, political and media experts, most of whom announce at the outset that they are not and never have been Netanyahu supporters. Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy is one.
Others include author Ari Shavit, Ono Academic College law school dean Yuval Elbashan, renowned defense attorney Sassy Gez, journalist Ben-Dror Yemini and former justice minister Haim Ramon.
Shavit describes the feeling of the sector that was on the outs of elite society until Menachem Begin became prime minister in 1977. This, he says, “allowed entry, but two clubs remained closed to them: the media and the legal system. And these two clubs have joined forces to eliminate the person [Netanyahu] who represents them.”
Ramon goes on to explain that, unlike in 2009 and 2013, Netanyahu didn’t include the Labor Party in the coalition he built in 2015. This was when “many on the left started to sense that Bibi was a danger to Israeli democracy,” he says.
Here, a clip from that period shows a Labor Party activist warning a political gathering that “if we want to defeat Bibi, it will be hard to do so through elections. We don’t have Russians; we don’t have flag-bearers [nationalists]; we don’t have Mizrahi Jews; we don’t have the periphery. We’re in demographic trouble. We want to defeat him? Let’s defeat him through corruption [charges].”
THE DOCUMENTARY presents and asks participants to express their opinions on seven key facts that “were not and cannot be in dispute": 1. There has never been a prime minister, in any country, tried for bribery for interfering in media coverage. 2. The investigations into Netanyahu were launched without the required signed and reasoned approval of the attorney general. 3. The indictment was filed while Netanyahu was in the United States – get this – signing the Abraham Accords. 4. The Israel Police and State Attorney’s Office employed extreme and illegal interrogation techniques to extract witness testimony. 5. The police and prosecution violated the law by trying to persuade witnesses to switch lawyers, to make it easier to turn them against Netanyahu. 6. The police and prosecution used spyware to extract information, also in violation of the law. 7. The prosecution failed to transfer many important documents to Netanyahu’s defense team.
In addition, as the film reveals, “they were in such a hurry to file the indictment that they forgot one of the basic elements of any indictment, a witness list,” which the State Attorney’s Office subsequently prepared. At the court’s request, it also wrote an addendum to the indictment specifying 315 instances of favorable coverage, later referred to as “reduced hostility.”
This would be hilarious if it weren’t so horrifying. Luckily, however, the farce spurred some dedicated skeptics to establish “The 315 Project-Citizens for Truth,” to check out each example of the ostensibly mutual Walla-Netanyahu arrangement.
“I don’t have to be a lawyer or a genius to discover that if they say that an article was removed from the site [at Netanyahu’s behest] and it wasn’t removed – it’s still on the site to this day – that it’s a lie,” says 315 Project cofounder Adi Sabo.
The addendum was rife with misrepresentations, to put it mildly. The 315 Project found that in 136 instances, no request about content was made or granted. Another 155 were standard press releases that were also sent out to other media outlets.
Of the remaining 24, there were 13 that didn’t involve Netanyahu at all, and five had insufficient details. Only six out of the 315 might possibly have deserved the dubious distinction spelled out in the outrageous indictment.
RAPHAEL BITTON of the Sapir College Law School points out that public figures and journalists around the globe regularly negotiate coverage. He quips sardonically that Israel’s becoming the first place on earth to indict a sitting prime minister for the common practice once would have seemed about as likely as the Jewish state’s winning the World Cup soccer championship.
Criminal lawyer Zion Amir interprets how this came about. When repeated efforts by Netanyahu’s foes to oust him at the ballot box were unsuccessful, he says, they began bombarding the High Court of Justice with appeals against him and demanding that he be investigated for corruption.
Coupled with the cacophony of “insufferable protests,” the situation basically forced the state attorney and attorney general to take action. “In the end, they’re human,” he adds.
It’s a generous attitude that Bitton doesn’t share. He says that since the 1980s, Israel’s legal system has been engaged in a gradual power grab for itself, the cumulative effect of which is “really tectonic.” So much so, he bemoans, that “it’s seriously impinged on the functioning of the state in several ways, from our ability to win wars in Gaza to our immigration and economic policies.”
Expounding on this assertion, he says that stealing so much power over the course of 40 years is only made possible when carried out in proverbial darkness, out of the public eye. “What the Netanyahu trial has done,” he says, “is shine light on the process.”
The same can be said of the excellent film, which serves to remind us of a key issue that’s at stake in the upcoming election: the fate of the justice system. If victorious, the Netanyahu-led camp on the right intends to clean house.
In contrast, the members of the “anybody but Bibi” bloc on the Left prefer it dirty, or at least just unethical enough for it to end up securing a conviction of their nemesis.