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Netanyahu trial judges double down: Bribery charge will be hard to prove

The Ombudsman's Office found the judges acted properly in warning prosecutors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Jerusalem District Court, June 26, 2023. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Jerusalem District Court, June 26, 2023. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90.

A public body tasked with investigating judicial misconduct rejected a complaint against the three judges presiding over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

Uri Shoham, head of the Ombudsman’s Office of the Israeli Judiciary, accepted the judges’ position that they had “not shied away from conducting the trial” or formed a prior opinion in favor of the defense.

The complaint was filed after a well-publicized meeting in June in which the judges invited state prosecutors and Netanyahu’s defense team to their chambers to privately tell them that the bribery charge in Case 4000 would be difficult to prove.

Case 4000 is considered the most serious of the three cases in the Netanyahu trial. It involves allegations that Netanyahu entered into an arrangement with businessman and former owner of the telecom giant Bezeq Shaul Elovitch in which Netanyahu would promote Elovitch’s business interests and Elovitch, in return, would provide positive media coverage of Netanyahu at Walla News, owned by Bezeq at that time.

The judges offered their private opinion after hearing all of the prosecution’s witnesses, Shoham noted in his argument rejecting the complaint.

Shoham also said that the judges made clear that they were speaking only of the bribery charge in the one case. The court is entitled to express its opinion, he said, “as long as it does not make any decisions, but chooses its words carefully with the caveat that in expressing its opinion there is no final and decisive determination.”

The presiding judges, Rebecca Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, also issued a statement that they were conducting the trial with neutrality and restraint.

Attorney Amiram Gill, who submitted the complaint, said he remained concerned about the conduct of the trial: “Before Israel becomes Sicily, it is time for the prosecution to seriously consider expressing a public position against the way the case is being handled. If you don’t do so in real-time, the prosecutor’s office may approve a process whose outcome is becoming known in advance.”

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