Prosecution alleges Netanyahu made improper use of the governmental power entrusted to him; first witness describes pressure to change news coverage.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court Monday at the start of the evidentiary stage of his trial on charges of corruption but left the court room immediately at the end of the opening speech and did not stay to hear any testimony, Kann News reported.
The hearing opened with a speech by the prosecutor from the State Attorney’s Office, attorney Liat Ben-Ari, who told the court that “the awareness of the Prime Minister that things are given to him because of his public status is what allows us to define things as bribery.”
“Defendant 1 is the Prime Minister of Israel, who according to the indictment made improper use of the great governmental power entrusted to him, inter alia, to demand and derive improper benefits from the owners of major media outlets in Israel in order to advance his personal affairs for a long time. To be re-elected,” Ben-Ari told the court.
At the beginning of the trial in February, Netanyahu pleaded not guilty. For years, the prime minister has maintained that the allegations against him are a witch hunt by people seeking to force him from power because they could not defeat him at the ballot box.
Ben-Ari alleged that Netanyahu’s communications regarding news coverage by the Walla news network were not just ordinary conversation.
“The discussion is not objective communication or not – but an impact on content,” said Ben-Ari. The main witness phase of the trial is expected to last up to several weeks, centering on the issue of whether or not Netanyahu and co-defendant Shaul Elovitch conspired to alter news coverage of the prime minister.
Elovitch at the time was CEO of the Bezeq communications company that had the controlling interest of the news website Walla, with Bezeq allegedly receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits from legislation Netanyahu advanced as long as Walla gave him positive coverage.
The first witness was former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, who testified that the biased coverage on the news site was done in exchange for regulatory benefits.
Yeshua said that Elovitch and his wife had told him on several occasions that if the prime minister’s wife Sara got angry, Netanyahu would get angry – and if he got angry, “we would be harmed,” as they put it.
He recalled referring to Netanyahu as “Kim,” indicating that the Prime Minister’s tactics were reminiscent of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Yeshua testified that senior staff members at the prime minister’s office constantly called him with articles ready to run on the website, and that the Elovitches pressured him to run articles critical of Netanyahu’s opponents.
As he delved into the details of how Shaul and Iris Elovitch had allegedly pressured him, Iris Elovitch at one point shouted towards the witness box, “How much can you lie?”
Yeshua’s testimony is expected to run through the end of the month, and the prosecution is expected to call at least 300 witnesses. Although only half of the witnesses are expected to be called to testify, the trial might continue for up to three years before a verdict is reached.
The defense is not obligated to announce at this point which witnesses it will bring. Netanyahu does not have to testify in court himself, but such a move may strengthen the suspicions against him, so he is likely to choose to testify at the relevant stage in the trial, Kann reported.