The highly publicized and much delayed corruption trial against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went into high gear on Monday with key witnesses testifying at the Jerusalem District Court against Netanyahu, who appeared in court for the third time.
During the opening of the evidentiary phase of the trial, the lead state prosecutor, Liat Ben-Ari, accused Netanyahu of "severe governmental corruption." The prime minister denies any wrongdoing and claims that he is a victim of a politically motivated plot to remove him from power.
The corruption trial against Netanyahu pushes Israel into new unchartered legal territory and is expected to last for a few years unless Netanyahu and the prosecutors agree to a plea bargain. If convicted, Netanyahu could face up to three years in prison for fraud and breach of trust while the charge of bribery carries up to 10 years in prison.
What are the individual cases and specific criminal charges against the prime minister, and who are the main characters of this unprecedented political and legal drama that is making headlines worldwide?
Judges and Attorney General
Netanyahu’s personal and legal fate ultimately lies in the hands of the Jerusalem court judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shoham, who will eventually determine whether the prime minister is innocent or guilty.
The Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who previously served as a Cabinet Secretary in Netanyahu’s government in 2013, formally submitted the indictment against Netanyahu in January 2020 with charges of bribe, fraud and breach of trust.
Case 1000 focuses on allegations that Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu received illegal gifts worth around 700,000 shekels (roughly $211,000) from Israeli Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Unlike her husband, Sara Netanyahu is not indicted as a defendant. The gifts mainly consisted of cigars and bottles of champagne, allegedly in exchange for different favors. Milchan is a key witness in this case, but he is not personally facing indictment. In this case, Netanyahu is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Case 2000 deals with Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the owner of the daily paper Yedioth Ahronoth, who allegedly negotiated a deal to boost the paper’s circulation by undermining rival newspaper Israel Hayom (Israel Today) in exchange for better coverage. Netanyahu is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust while Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe to the prime minister. Both Netanyahu and Mozes deny any wrongdoing. The alleged favors were never exchanged, so the case mainly focuses on intent, rather than actual actions. The former Netanyahu aide Ari Harrow is a key witness, providing background information to both case 1000 and case 2000.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The case is considered the most severe of the three cases and revolves around Netanyahu allegedly granting regulatory favors worth approximately 1.8 billion shekels (roughly $500 million) to Shaul Elovitch, the main shareholder and former chairman of Israeli telecom company Bezeq Telecom. In return, the prime minister reportedly asked for positive coverage of himself and his wife Sara at Elovitch’s news site Walla.
On Monday, key witness and former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, testified against Netanyahu in the Jerusalem court. Yeshua claimed that he was “abused” by Netanyahu’s messengers and felt that he and senior Walla editor Avi Alkalai were pressured to tilt the media coverage in Netanyahu’s favor. According to Yeshua’s testimony, he and the senior editor felt so intimidated by Netanyahu that they nicknamed the prime minister “Kim” in a reference to the North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.
Netanyahu, who at the time of the alleged crime was also serving as minister of communications, reportedly also pushed for negative media coverage of his political right-wing rival Naftali Bennett and his wife. Elovitch is accused of bribing Netanyahu while Mrs. Iris Elovitch is accused of assisting in the bribe.
What makes case 4000 particularly damning for Netanyahu is the fact that several of the prime minister’s former close aides have turned into state witnesses against him. Shlomo Filber is a former Netanyahu aide, who allegedly carried out his illegal orders and now accuses the prime minister of bribery.
Another key witness against Netanyahu is former aide Nir Hefetz, who also reportedly carried out the prime minister’s illegal orders. Zeev Rubinstein, another key witness, is a long-time friend of both Netanyahu and Elovitch, and reportedly facilitated as an intermediary in the alleged media bribery scheme.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.