Kicking off his third week on the stand, a key witness for the prosecution in Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial said Monday that he left his position because he feared the former prime minister was not fit to serve.
During the third day of his cross-examination, former Netanyahu family spokesman and confidant Nir Hefetz alleged to the Jerusalem District Court that there was a top-secret security incident during his tenure that endangered thousands and was kept under wraps.
“I told my interrogators, ‘It’s incredible that until today it still hasn’t been revealed,’” he said. ‘I left my job with Netanyahu in September 2017 because I believed that he was no longer fit to make security decisions for the State of Israel due to the situation surrounding him. I still believe that today.”
Hefetz did not further elaborate on the alleged incident, but Hebrew media reports said he was referring to Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the Temple Mount after three Arab Israeli terrorists shot dead two police officers at the Jerusalem holy site in July 2017.
The metal detectors were decried by local Muslim officials as an attempt to change the status quo. The weeks that followed saw numerous bloody clashes between police and East Jerusalemites, who refused to pass through the detectors and instead held at times violent protests outside the Old City.
A degree of calm was restored to the capital after the government agreed to remove the metal detectors and other security measures from the entrances to the Temple Mount on July 25.
The decision to remove the metal detectors followed a deal between Israel and Jordan regarding the safe return of an Israeli security guard injured in a stabbing attack at the Israeli embassy in Amman. That incident caused a diplomatic flare-up between the two countries, as the guard killed his attacker and another Jordanian national, and Netanyahu’s decision to later meet with the guard was denounced by Jordan.
Hefetz had claimed during police testimony that Netanyahu’s decision-making following the 2017 attack was unduly influenced by his eldest son Yair Netanyahu and wife Sara Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s Likud party dismissed Hefetz’s remarks as “absurd,” saying Hefetz did not take part in any “security forum” in 2017.
“It’s not for nothing that police investigators rejected his claims out of hand in real time,” Likud said in a statement.
Hefetz also testified Monday that his interrogation in the wake of his arrest had felt like more a persecution than an investigation.
“My confidence that this was a real and serious investigation without extraneous considerations was close to zero,” Hefetz told the court.
“I thought it was more of a persecution than an investigation. I saw the amount of resources and powers and the draconian methods,” he said, as the former premier’s defense team continued in their efforts to undermine the witness’s testimony against Netanyahu, arguing that statements made under duress should not be held up under the law.
The court saw clips of Hefetz’s interrogation in which he was told by investigators that he needed to consider his family and the possibility that he may not be able to see them for a long time, depending on his decisions.
“Sometimes you have to make choices that can hurt others,” Hefetz was told by investigators. “It’s important that you know and consider all the options you have. Family, friends, the people who are important to you.”
“Your son will get a rank [in the army] and you will not be there. Your daughter will finish her degree, and you will not be there. Think of your children. Think of your wife,” Hefetz was told.
In another excerpt from the interrogations, Hefetz was warned that he was in danger of taking a wrong turn in his statements.
“You want to get home safely. Do you remember the soldiers who entered Jenin? Even when you use Waze you can get to places you did not want to,” Hefetz was warned, in reference to a 2018 incident when two soldiers were attacked after following the GPS app and driving into the West Bank city. “As it looks, I can tell you honestly that your questioning does not lead you to where you want to go.”
The first part of Monday’s hearing was held behind closed doors because it dealt with issues covered by a restraining order, relating to private information about the pressure exerted on Hefetz during his interrogation.
Last week, Hefetz told the court that police interrogators threatened to destroy his relationships with his family members if he did not turn on his ex-boss.
“The threat was clear. If I did not give a version [they were looking for], they would destroy my family. This was said dozens of times,” Hefetz said.
Hefetz also said that his access to food and medical care was extremely limited while he was in police custody and that at one point he had even feared for his life.
Nonetheless, Hefetz said last week that despite the heavy pressure, his testimony is “unequivocally the truth.”
Hefetz has provided prosecutors with key information as an interlocutor between Netanyahu and Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, as the prime minister sought to positively influence coverage of his affairs through the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. Hefetz was often the one communicating the premier’s wishes to Walla management and has testified on the nature of this relationship.
Netanyahu is accused of bribery in the case, allegedly having provided regulatory benefits to Bezeq in return for positive coverage on Walla. He denies the allegations.
Hefetz’s testimony has mostly pertained to Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on Walla. However, some of it has related to Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom.
Hefetz left a long career in journalism in 2009 to work as a spokesman for Netanyahu’s government, and in 2014 became the Netanyahu family’s spokesman and adviser.
In 2018, after he was arrested as a possible accomplice in connection with one of Netanyahu’s corruption cases, Hefetz signed a state witness deal and provided investigators with recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family.