JERUSALEM — A formidable fixer turned star witness finally spoke in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial on Monday, exposing some of the most intimate secrets of the former Israeli prime minister.
Bibi’s former right-hand man Nir Hefetz told the court his boss had been a conceited man who spent as much time on media coverage as he did on national security. He said in the nationwide trial that Netanyahu was obsessed with consolidating power and controlling his image, while being dominated by his wife and son.
Hefetz became a state witness after being jailed during part of the police investigation into Netanyahu’s alleged crimes of corruption, fraud and breach of trust. At the sound of a small group of Netanyahu supporters chanting “there is no forgiveness for overthrown witnesses”, he entered the courtroom surrounded by bodyguards. Hefetz, who was in charge of communications during Netanyahu’s last successful re-election campaign in 2015, has started giving damning testimony that could go on for months.
“Benjamin Netanyahu? Hefetz asked, rhetorically, “In all things media, he is much more than a control freak. It demands every detail. His control over everything media related and his own social media channels couldn’t be tighter. “
“Netanyahu spends at least as much time on the media as he spends on security matters, including matters that any foreigner would consider trivial,” Hefetz said, before describing the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu like the person who appointed her husband’s chief of staff, spokesperson “and other positions” in the Israeli civil service.
Netanyahu was almost entirely concerned about hostile media, Hefetz said.
All of this from a man who said that Netanyahu was always “a leader whom I admire and whose worldview I share.” He is a brilliant man with “extraordinary abilities,” Hefetz told the court.
“Case 4000”, the one currently being heard by a panel of three judges from the Jerusalem District Court, revolves around attempts by Netanyahu, as prime minister, to take control of Walla News, an Israeli news portal popular.
At the time of Netanyahu’s indictment, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt described a “quid pro quo” between Netanyahu, who in addition to being prime minister appointed communications minister between 2014 and 2017, and Shaul Elovich, the majority shareholder of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications company, which owned Walla.
Hefetz described the unusual dual nomination as the result of a family cabal. Sara Netanyahu and Yair, Netanyahu’s then 24-year-old son, “insisted on the matter. It was a family decision that only he could exercise the functions of Minister of Communications. According to them, no other communications minister, including Netanyahu’s Likud ministers, would be able to withstand media pressure and be dominated by the media. Only him [Netanyahu] could take the pressure.
Things quickly turned south. Hefetz testified that he found himself used as a middleman for Elovitch, who demanded regulatory favors that would have allowed him to make Bezeq an even bigger conglomerate. At the same time, Yair Netanyahu was becoming consumed with the belief that Elovich and his wife, Iris, who had personally taken control of the Walla site’s coverage of the Netanyahu family, were overtaking his father.
Netanyahu’s professional advisers disagreed, and Hefetz himself said he believed the Elovichs were doing all they could to turn the website they owned into some kind of Pravda, a site of information that used its “prestige and reputation for credibility” to tip the scales in Netanyahu’s favor.
According to Monday’s testimony, Elovitch, baffled by Yair Netanyahu’s accusations, asked Hefetz “Don’t they understand that we gave them the site?” The website, Hefetz said, was “a gift” to the Netanyahu.
But nothing would satisfy the young Yair, whose influence during this period was rising in Netanyahu’s inner circle, according to Hefetz, and causing friction that distracted his father from doing state work for hours, “often daily, never less than weekly. “
“Netanyahu had the most control [in Walla]Hefetz said, describing Netanyahu as something like the head of an underground communications store. “In Walla, he could decide what the title would be, where it would be on the homepage. Even among the very media, very favorable, he did not have this control measure.
“At least since 2009,” Hefetz said, noting the date Netanyahu’s long tenure began, “his management, control and formulations for all interactions with any type of media have been absolute. Its level of control over media matters is not high, it is complete and total. It is absolute, much more than what is known to the public.
“A lot of his time is spent on this,” Hefetz continued. “Let me clarify that it was not measuring its time, but in my opinion, [media] is the number one thing that occupies him.
Netanyahu was present for most of the testimony of his former top official, in makeup and ready to photograph, wearing the classic Trump ensemble of a square blue suit and a bright red tie. His personal entourage has shrunk since his days in high office, with the phalanx of bodyguards and aides-de-camp that once surrounded him. The crowds he and Yair, who is now 30, summoned to the streets to reprimand the Israeli justice system, which they say is engaged in a “coup”, have generally not materialized.
A handful of Likud lawmakers attended the dramatic session in the small courtroom of Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman of the Jerusalem District Court while across town in the Israeli parliament, the new government led by former minister Netanyahu Naftali Bennett introduced a bill that would limit prime ministers’ terms to eight years.
“Hefetz is not just one of the super-powerful,” said Shelly Yechimovich, a former Labor leader who has previously faced threats from Hefetz and now hosts a news program. on the radio. “People were shaking when they heard his name. “
Hefetz’s intimate knowledge of how Netanyahu’s inner circle works has made his testimony the most anticipated among the hundreds of witnesses listed in Netanyahu’s trial, which is expected to last for years.