On Thursday night, with sunken faces, Channel 13’s legal correspondents delivered the news: The judges presiding over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial for bribery and breach of trust had told the prosecutors and defense attorney last week that the prosecutors have not proven their charge of bribery, and are unlikely to succeed in doing so, since all their major witnesses have already testified.
The implications are earthshattering. For the past seven years, two forces—the state prosecution and the media—have pushed Israel to the brink of civil war in their effort to criminalize Netanyahu and demonize his supporters.
Their goal was never hidden. They seek to oust Netanyahu from public life and disenfranchise his voters by disqualifying and demonizing their elected leader.
Beginning in 2016, through criminal leaks to reporters from every major newspaper, radio station and television channel, state prosecutors, police investigators, journalists and editors invented and shaped a narrative of criminality surrounding Netanyahu and sold it to the public on a daily basis.
Netanyahu, they said, undermined Israel’s economy, national security and moral fiber to satisfy his decadent tastes, enrich his cronies and further his obsessive-compulsive quest for positive media coverage from the same media that hates him.
With its unqualified commitment to Netanyahu’s downfall, the media justified every means the prosecution employed against him. The reporters and editors who proudly proclaimed themselves champions of civil rights and the rule of law looked the other way or justified repeated crimes committed by prosecutors and police investigators in order to “get” Netanyahu.
Consider just a few of those crimes, which while exposed in full on the witness stand, were widely known in real time. Rather than report them critically or even dispassionately, the media justified or ignored them and attacked as unprofessional and corrupt the few writers and reporters who were willing to expose them.
To compel Netanyahu’s closest associates to incriminate him, the prosecution and police extorted, tortured and humiliated them. Two of Netanyahu’s chiefs of staff, David Sharan and Ari Harow, former director general of the Ministry of Communications Shlomo Filber and Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz were subjected to physical and psychological torture and extortion at the hands of police investigators closely guided by prosecutors. They were locked up and denied food and medical treatment. The police ruined Hefetz and Harow’s marriages. Police carted Sharan’s elderly mother into an investigation cell in front of him to break him.
These men, who committed no crimes, were subjected to prolonged incarceration and denied sleep. Hefetz was jailed in a flea-ridden cell and denied minimal medical care. All the witnesses were subjected to prolonged public humiliation. The police opened a scurrilous criminal probe against Harow and staged a dramatic arrest, taking him into custody as he landed at the airport as if he were a drug kingpin. They opened another open-ended, scurrilous investigation against Filber’s son. Harow and Sharan’s bank accounts were frozen. Their wives found themselves unable to buy food at the supermarket.
Multiple other prosecution witnesses were subjected to similar treatment in the state prosecution’s campaign to use the criminal probe to intimidate and terrorize Netanyahu and coerce him into stepping down.
To demonize and criminalize the sitting prime minister and his associates, prosecutors and police investigators engaged in widespread criminal use of cyber warfare tools developed to fight Israel’s enemies. Netanyahu’s closest aides and, apparently, his children and wife were subjected to illegal monitoring of their electronic communications. One of the breach-of-trust charges against Netanyahu allegedly originated in the police’s illegal use of such a spyware tool against Ari Harow.
Again, most of the details of this prosecutorial misconduct and apparent outright criminality on the part of the investigators and prosecutors was known—sometimes as it was happening. The vast majority of reporters and editors in every medium supported these actions. The end—ousting the popular, successful, democratically elected prime minister of Israel whom they collectively hated because he threatened their privileged positions and opposed their radical ideological agendas—justified every criminal means.
The bribery case against Netanyahu was an extraordinary means in and of itself. To charge Netanyahu with bribery, then-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and then-Attorney General Avi Mandelblit redefined bribery. Under the statute, a bribe is a monetary benefit that a public official receives from a private citizen who has the expectation of receiving preferential government treatment in return for that monetary benefit.
In 2017, Nitzan expanded the definition of bribery to include the provision of supportive media coverage to a public official. The prosecution’s case revolves around Netanyahu’s relationship with his old friend Shaul Alovich, then owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company and a minor news website called Walla.
The prosecution accused Netanyahu of ordering Filber, then director general of the Ministry of Communications, to provide preferential regulatory treatment to Bezeq. That treatment, the prosecution alleged, was worth hundreds of millions of shekels to Alovich. In exchange for these favors, Walla provided positive coverage of Netanyahu.
As several leading jurists, including Profs. Alan Dershowitz and Avi Bell, along with legendary American defense attorney Nat Lewin, explained in Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing before Mandelblit in 2020, Nitzan’s expanded definition of bribery is without precedent in the democratic world.
The implication of the definition was that both journalism and politics are criminal syndicates. All relations between public officials and reporters, media owners and editors are crime scenes. Any reporter or news outlet that provides positive coverage of a politician is liable to be indicted for bribery. Any politician who receives supportive coverage from a news outlet is vulnerable to charges of accepting bribes. Any effort to secure positive coverage is similarly at risk of serving as the basis of a criminal charge of solicitating a bribe. Nitzan’s new definition of bribery effectively provides prosecutors with the ability to indict any politician and any reporter, editor and media owner any time they want.
For whatever reason, the judges at Netanyahu’s trial accepted the legitimacy of Nitzan’s revised definition of bribery without question. Their message last week was that the prosecutors have failed to make their case even under the new definition of bribery.
Prosecutors did everything they could to force Alovich to become a state witness against Netanyahu. They ruined him financially. They arrested him, his wife Iris and their son Or in a humiliating dawn raid on their house. They illegally pressured Or Alovich to pressure his father to fire his attorney and hire an attorney known for cutting deals with the prosecution. They denied Alovich medical assistance and arrested his octogenarian mother. But as Alovich explained to his son, in an illegally recorded conversation, “I have nothing to give them.”
So, they indicted Alovich for bribery.
As the judges explained, despite the prosecution’s efforts, the prosecutors at the trial have failed to prove their case. It works out that facts are stubborn things. And as the defense attorneys have demonstrated, Netanyahu did not seek positive coverage from Walla. He did not receive positive coverage from Walla. He did not seek to provide Bezeq with regulatory favors. Indeed, his regulatory policies cost Bezeq hundreds of millions of shekels in losses, not profits. Alovich never offered or received or expected to receive any regulatory benefit from his friendship with Netanyahu.
In the months leading up to his indictment of Netanyahu, Mandelblit said on several occasions that he wouldn’t have indicted Netanyahu for breach of trust alone. Breach of trust is a nebulous process crime. Without the bribery charge, there is no case against Netanyahu.
And now, there is no bribery charge.
The coalition of reporters and prosecutors who have led the campaign to oust Netanyahu from power threw a collective tantrum after hearing of the judges’ statement. They accused the judges of unprofessional behavior. Moreover, they insist, hinting at an appeal if Netanyahu is acquitted, the judges are wrong.
Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara and her associates told their media mouthpieces that she will not vacate the bribery charge. Their new talking point, repeated by reporters in every medium since Thursday night, is that while it is true that the prosecutors haven’t proven their case, Baharav Miara and her associates are still convinced that they will succeed in doing so as soon as the defense begins presenting its case.
The rank stupidity of the claim that the defense’s case is the prosecution’s ace in the hole never seemed to dawn on any of the senior reporters and anchors vapidly parroting it out as if it were a serious contention.
Another prosecution talking point widely parroted in the media asserts that “breach of trust” is a serious crime and the judges didn’t dismiss those charges. So, nothing is over.
The fact that the breach-of-trust charge in two of the cases are predicated on the bribery charge never seems to have dawned on them. According to Channel 12’s token non-leftist commentator Amit Segal, the judges have already informed the prosecutors that the third breach-of-trust charge has collapsed.
Baharav Miara and her comrades insist on moving ahead with their bribery charge against Netanyahu and pretending that they can oust the prime minister on “breach-of-trust” charges because they have no choice. Their unbridled quest to “get” Netanyahu at all costs made the trial a zero-sum game.
To “get their man,” the coalition of prosecutors, police investigators and journalists have torn Israeli society apart for the past seven years. They demonized not only Netanyahu but his voters. Through the timing and framing of their actions against Netanyahu just before elections, Mandelblit and his many associates decisively influenced the outcome of repeated elections. Their incrimination of Netanyahu compelled all center-left parties who might otherwise have joined a Netanyahu government to boycott Netanyahu and his Likud Party, denying Netanyahu the ability to form governing coalitions.
The past four years of political turmoil are entirely the doing of a coalition of politicized reporters, prosecutors and police investigators. They forced Israel into five successive election cycles and clapped their hands in glee as the level of public rancor and social unrest rose from election to election.
In a last-ditch effort to paralyze Netanyahu’s current government, the police, state prosecutors and media are at it again. They fully back, and to a degree stand at the helm, of the left’s lawless campaign of social unrest that began in January.
To give just a few examples of their contribution to the current social chaos threatening to plunge Israel into civil war, Tel Aviv’s police have stood back and allowed a few dozen anarchists to block major highways for hours on behalf of “democracy” on a weekly basis since January. No actions are taken against rioters who commit battery and assault against coalition members and cabinet ministers. Baharav Miara barred Netanyahu from being involved in his government’s central program of legal reform during the critical months of January through March with no legal basis for her actions.
It is hard to know when this saga will end. But in their responses to the judges’ warning, Baharav-Miara, Netanyahu’s prosecutors, the police commanders and the media have all made clear that they will not relent. They intend to fight to the bitter end. And they intend to take the State of Israel down with them as they go down in flames.