Netanyahu lawyers: Prosecution withholding exculpatory evidence

The prosecution had decided not to provide the defense with texts showing Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua taking other politicians’ requests for favorable news coverage.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israeli airwaves reverberated Wednesday with reactions to the revelation Tuesday that the prosecution in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had seemingly withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Under contention are text messages that Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua exchanged with various politicians or their aides regarding positive stories to be published about them on the news site. The prosecution told the court that it had deemed them “irrelevant” and they were not planning to pass them on to the defense, but some had been sent to them unintentionally.

All the defense lawyers in the media bribery case known as Case 4000 furiously denounced the prosecution in court for attempting to hobble their efforts on behalf of their clients, Walla and Bezeq owner Shaul Elovich, his wife Iris, and Netanyahu.

Lawyers unconnected to the case who were interviewed on radio said that it was not up to the prosecution to decide what was relevant or irrelevant to the defense. One attorney told Reshet Alef radio that he was “very troubled” by the idea that the prosecution might be so intent on winning what much of the media is calling the most important trial in the history of the state that it would use wrongful means to ensure success.

The texts that the prosecution had not intended to give the defense included then-Labor party leader Isaac Herzog instructing Yeshua in 2013 on the type of positive headline and story he’d like after a primary victory over Shelly Yacimovich. Although on vacation at the time, Yeshua readily acquiesced to instruct his on-duty editor to comply.

The judges themselves were surprised that the prosecution had decided that this kind of evidence was deemed unimportant and asked if there was additional, similar material that was not handed over. The chief prosecutor, Yehudit Tirosh, said she “didn’t know how to answer” the question.

On Wednesday, the defense presented texts that showed Yeshua agreeing to slant coverage for another politician. In 2015, an election year, he discussed with an aide to Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Liberman how specific articles should be slanted in Liberman’s favor, and even how long they should be.

Altogether, there were seemingly a few dozen incidents with various politicians other than Netanyahu where Yeshua intervened and ordered his editors to provide positive coverage or block negative articles. The defense is now using them to undercut the prosecution’s contention that Netanyahu’s confidants’ pressure for similarly complimentary stories were out of the ordinary and should constitute bribery.

The prosecution’s thesis is that in return for giving in to unusual demands for positive coverage of Netanyahu, Elovich received hundreds of millions of shekels thanks to regulatory changes made in Bezeq’s favor.

Yeshua had testified for weeks regarding the pressure he received from Netanyahu confidants and his boss, Elovich, to upload favorable news coverage of the prime minister while denigrating his political opponents and removing or burying negative stories.