Case 333: 6 things to know for December 3
Israel media review

Case 333: 6 things to know for December 3

Who ever heard of such a crazy number? Not Israel Hayom, which is sticking by its man despite its publishers being on that august roster

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the unveiling of a new monument to the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv, October 27, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the unveiling of a new monument to the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv, October 27, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. The banality of calling witnesses: If there was any doubt about Israel Hayom acting as a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team as his case heads to trial, it has seemingly gone out the window on Tuesday.

  • “Netanyahu: Even 333 witnesses won’t help,” screams the top headline splashed across the tabloid’s front page. That’s especially noteworthy considering that two of the 333 are Israel Hayom publishers Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
  • Much of the paper’s coverage of the publication of the witness list consists of quoting Netanyahu poking fun of it as well as other attempts to downplay its possible significance.
  • The 333 number is so magical to the paper’s Haim Shine that he devotes 333 words to it (actually 334 according to my word processor).
  • “To the best of my professional knowledge, a case that needs 333 witnesses to get a conviction is nothing more than a fishing expedition in bitter waters that are not fit for drinking,” he writes, using each of those 333 words with the utmost prudence.
  • At least he doesn’t go the route of Netanyahu’s son Yair, who noted that the Eichmann trial only had 100 witnesses, inadvertently comparing his dad to a murderous Nazi. Also, he’s incorrect. According to Yad Vashem, 108 witnesses were called, plus a whole roster of experts. So the number was somewhat higher.

2. Why would anybody think that Israel Hayom would not be the Bibi Law Review? Well, reports in Israeli media had indicated a possible falling out between the Adelsons and Netanyahu over the fact that the prime minister had suggested hamstringing their paper to get better coverage from a rival. A series of reports earlier this year had quoted police transcripts in which Miriam Adelson complains about being yelled at by Sara Netanyahu and blamed for everything, including Iran’s nuclear program (that’s not even a joke.)

  • The LA Times reports that Adelson attorney Avigdor Klagsbald “said he could not say whether his clients would be asked to appear in court in Israel. Asked whether the criminal case had changed their support of the prime minister, Klagsbald said, ‘I don’t know.’”
  • Coincidentally, for those who want a closer look at how Netanyahu allegedly manipulates the media to his benefit, Haaretz has published an English version of its bombshell report on how i24, recently partnered with Israel Hayom, softened its line on Netanyahu to win approval for a broadcast license.

3. A veritable who’s who: Is 333 witnesses such a crazy number, though? Aside from being half of 666, there’s not much doing, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, which also attempts to downplay the number.

  • The paper reports that the Holyland trial — the most expansive graft trial in the country’s history — had 370 witnesses (it also had enough defendants to field a football team.) The Yisrael Beytenu graft case has a whopping 470 according to the paper.
  • The paper, which was one half of the suspected quid pro quo deal that got the Adelsons in a huff and forms the basis of Case 2000, pulls out a number of the most high-profile witnesses, including some of its own journalists. Not included is publisher Arnon Mozes, presumably because he will be on trial himself.
  • Noting all the powerful names on the list, from Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Tata’s Ratan Tata to Netanyahu’s aides, ministers, former security brass and more, Maariv’s Ben Caspit (who is not on the list) jokes “If you’re not on the list, you’re a nobody.”
  • “We can take advantage of the case to have a fundraiser for IDF soldiers or 75th independence day celebrations,” reporter Avishai Grunzweig quips on Twitter, listing all the billionaires being called in.

4. The don’t become a prisoner dilemma: The letter with the witness list also set the 30-day clock running for Netanyahu to request immunity from his Knesset buddies.

  • But Channel 13 news reports that Netanyahu has yet to make up his mind on asking for a get out of jail free card.
  • “Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority in the Knesset to ask immunity of. In addition, if a committee is set up to decide about it, the decision could slip into the approaching political campaign. Netanyahu is mulling whether discussion of the topic, which will put his court cases at the top of the news agenda, will help a Likud campaign or hurt it,” the channel reports.
  • Channel 12’s Daphna Liel writes that Netanyahu is likely to go for the free pass, but there are some good reasons not to: “There are many on the right who are against this move, including Avigdor Liberman and others of his ilk (including in Likud) who say Netanyahu should face the claims in court. In addition — polls show much opposition to the move within Likud.”
  • In Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi predicts Netanyahu will only ask for immunity on the last of the 30 days, which will leave him in power and delay the trial: “The prime minister isn’t going anywhere until his case is done with.”

5. The AG can’t get no relief: Haaretz reports that rather than breathe a sigh of relief at having gotten the charge sheet off his chest, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit now has to gear up for his next big battle: choosing a replacement for outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

  • The biggest problem is that he has to push any candidate past Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who despite being only a temporary minister can still wield power here.
  • “If Mandelblit thinks that Ohana’s choice is not worthy of the post, he is expected to object vehemently and under those circumstances someone is likely to petition the High Court of Justice against Ohana’s choice. Mandelblit has already made it clear in private conversations that he will not defend such an appointment in court,” the paper reports.
  • Former justice minister Haim Ramon tells Army Radio that Mandelblit should just let Ohana have his way. “What if the AG has a little respect for the government, even if it is a transition government? Where is the respect for Israeli democracy.”
  • Globes reports that high-tech tycoons have begun leaning on Mandelblit over their annoyance at his refusal to say whether Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government, writing a letter claiming that news elections will cost the country dearly in societal and actual costs.

6. Just poll the trigger already: The no-elections train may have already left the station. In the latest sign elections are around the corner, the Knesset’s legal adviser announces the earliest date for elections as February 25.

  • Likud members who were once counting on the support of Avigdor Liberman have suddenly lost hope and want new elections called lickety-split.
  • “This is a waste of time. There’s no chance at a unity government. The moment Liberman said he’s not ready to join a government of 63 [MKs], every day that passes is unnecessary.”
  • Similar words are used by a chorus of unnamed “political operatives” in Israel Hayom: “This is a waste of time, there’s no progress in the talks.”
  • But hope springs eternal. Channel 12 news reports that Liberman is being asked by two of his MKs to join the right-religious bloc if December 11 comes and there is no unity government. Liberman tells the Knesset Channel: “I don’t know what’s worse, a narrow government or elections.”
  • And as for that dead unity idea, Tuesday morning brings news that Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz will meet in the late afternoon. Ynet news calls it a “last chance.” Where have we heard that before?
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