Netanyahu trial

Ex-aide testifies Netanyahu saw newspaper publisher as his ‘true opposition’

Nir Hefetz says at cross-examination that former premier blamed all Israeli negative coverage on Yedioth Ahronoth’s Arnon Mozes, wanted to threaten him

Nir Hefetz at a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz at a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A key witness for the prosecution in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial on Monday described the animosity between the former premier and a media publisher who has also been charged in one of the cases against Netanyahu

Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu confidant turned state’s witness, said in his cross-examination that the former prime minister’s hatred toward Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, was “hard to convey in words.”

“When Netanyahu talks about Mozes it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I would leave the room so I wouldn’t have to be present,” Hefetz said on his 15th day of testimony.

Netanyahu is being charged in three separate graft cases. In the so-called Case 2000, he is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu blamed Mozes for all negative articles against him in the media, even those not on Mozes’s own site, Hefetz said Monday.

“Netanyahu is sure that every letter typed on any platform is Mozes. Netanyahu would tell me that I didn’t understand, that I’m naive,” he said.

“That’s what the Netanyahus thought. That’s their narrative. Netanyahu claims that his true opposition is Mozes. Almost every action he ties to Mozes.”

Hefetz said that, as Netanyahu’s media adviser, he tried to change this view, but gave up.

“Netanyahu wanted me to pass threats to Mozes, just warn him that it’s not worth it to get involved with the prime minister,” Hefetz said. He said Netanyahu had not explicitly told him to threaten the publisher, but that Hefetz understood that was what he wanted him to do.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon ‘Noni’ Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

Hefetz said the hatred went both ways, and added that he believed Yedioth Ahronoth truly was biased against Netanyahu.

“I heard from Mozes that you can’t believe a single word Netanyahu says,” Hefetz said.

Mozes does not normally attend the hearings, but went on Monday to hear the testimony relating to the charges against him.

Hefetz’s cross-examination in the so-called Case 4000 has finished and Monday’s testimony concerned Case 1000 and Case 2000.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000.

In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.

In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

On Monday, Hefetz said he had not been aware of gifts Milchan gave to the Netanyahus, but described the close relationship between the two parties.

Hefetz said he had also been unaware of gifts from Packer, besides “10 tickets to a Mariah Carey show.”

Netanyahu has been accused of accepting gifts including expensive cigars and champagne. Hefetz said Monday there had been a strict policy to “not take photos of Netanyahu smoking cigars or eating.”

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the media.

In recent testimony, Hefetz has said that Netanyahu covered his tracks by shredding documents, even “grocery lists,” that he tried “to rob the state’s funds for personal needs” on dozens of occasions, and that Hefetz feared the former prime minister was not fit to serve.

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