On April 4, attorney Liat Ben-Ari, the chief prosecutor in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, presented the prosecution’s opening argument at the beginning of the evidentiary stage of the proceedings. That morning, I had published an article that focused on the huge holes in the prosecution’s basic thesis that Netanyahu had asked for unusual coverage on the Walla news site in exchange for regulatory benefits for Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareowner of Bezeq, which owns Walla.
In case you missed it, the word on which the entire case hangs is “unusual.”
Amazingly, even before the evidentiary stage of the trial began, it was already known that the prosecution had not troubled itself to set any criteria that would determine a norm, deviation from which would potentially cross into the area of criminality.
Correspondence between Yeshua and former Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog—Netanyahu’s main rival in the 2015 election—was presented, which showed that Yeshua had gone out of his way to assist Herzog. According to the material, even while he was on vacation in Hawaii, Yeshua had instructed Walla’s lead editor to post a headline dictated by Herzog against his then-rival in the Labor primaries, Shelly Yachimovich.
Astonishingly, due to a “mistake,” this correspondence reached the defense team only a month ago, during Yeshua’s initial questioning. Judges were amazed that such dramatic evidence could have been categorized as “irrelevant” and asked the prosecution if there was any other material that had not been delivered to the defense. The prosecutor, Yehudit Tirosh, responded: “I don’t know how to answer.”
And that’s not all: It turned out that Yeshua had held at least 14 meetings with various politicians (including Moshe Kahlon, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Dalia Itzik and others), but not a single meeting with Netanyahu. Yeshua also confirmed that Elovitch and his wife prevented the publication of negative items about Kahlon, fearing retribution from the former minister.
Another “unusual” issue has to do with publishing tycoon Ilan Shiloah. Yeshua admitted that he had taken care to provide positive coverage of Shiloah because the latter had made hefty ad purchases on the Walla site, and was a friend of Elovitch’s son. But Yeshua also had a personal reason to help him out—his son worked for Shiloah, and on Tuesday, it turned out that Yeshua and his son had earned $400,000 from the IPO of Shiloh’s company.
The broader picture is becoming clear: The prosecution prided itself on having set up a battery of 40 attorneys to file the indictment against Netanyahu, but reasonable thinking by a single person would have prevented it from making a mockery of its flagship case, in what could be the most important trial in the history of Israel.
The Netanyahu trail is just starting, but even now, when a major witness for the prosecution falls apart on the witness stand, along with the prosecution’s basic thesis, the question arises of whether the judges will find the courage to admit that the case before them was stitched together carelessly and continues to fray.
Gilad Zwick is a reporter for Israel Hayom.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.