Hear O Avichai: 6 things to know for October 2
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Hear O Avichai: 6 things to know for October 2

Netanyahu’s long-awaited hearing is finally getting underway, and while everybody is already sure they know the outcome, there’s no agreement on what that will be

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Judgment days: After months of waiting, it’s finally pre-indictment hearing day.

  • Actually, it’s the first of four pre-indictment hearing days, after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit agreed to draw out the process by an extra two days.
  • For those into that kind of thing, the timing of the process could not be more appropriate as far as the Jewish calendar goes, with the hearing running through the 10 days when traditionally Jews get to plead their final case before God ahead of the sealing of their fates for the year to come ahead of Yom Kippur.
  • Even more on the head (for some), Wednesday marks the Fast of Gedaliah, in remembrance of the time a jealous usurper stabbed the good Governor Gedaliah in the back, ruining Jewish life in the land of Israel for everybody. According to lore, the killing was what cemented the start of the Babylonian exile some 2,500 years ago.
  • In May, the Jewish Press’s David Israel noted that the original date for the hearing on July 10 was the anniversary of the death of Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny (and countless other Looney Tunes.) Take from that what you may.
  • The Justice Ministry is not quite as quick as God, and rather than seal Netanyahu’s fate by the time of the final Ne’ila prayer on the Day of Atonement, Channel 12 news reports that the legal eagles are hoping to have a decision by the end of the year.
  • Nonetheless, Haaretz’s lead editorial, which accuses Mandelblit of dragging his feet on the cases, calls for a swift judgment. “The attorney general must publish his decision on the indictments shortly after the hearing, without delay,” it reads.

2. 4000 maniacs: The hearing will kick off Wednesday with discussions on case 4000, one of three cases the prime minister in facing, but the only one in which he faces the more serious charge of bribery.

  • “Both sides know that most attention will be on one case, the bribery in Case 4000, where it’s possible that Netanyahu’s legal and political future hang in the balance,” writes Yedioth.
  • In that case, he is accused of pushing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.
  • According to Hebrew media reports, the defense team will assert that Netanyahu acted entirely according to the opinions and directives of government professionals; they will deny any mutually beneficial relations with Elovitch; they will stress that all politicians have complex relations with the media; and they will claim state’s witnesses Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz were pressured unreasonably to testify against Netanyahu.
  • While the defense asked for two days to present all of its defenses, Haaretz reports that it will have a hard time getting any of it to stand up.
  • “Take, for example, the fact that of 20 lawyers who have worked on the Netanyahu cases, not a single one has said that the prime minister should be charged with a lesser crime than bribery,” writes the paper’s Natael Bandel. “Given that the cases against Netanyahu are circumstantial, the defense lawyers need to do more than refute one or two pieces of ‘golden evidence.’ They would have to disassemble the entire puzzle built by the prosecutors and rebuild it based on evidence of an entirely different narrative – one that isn’t criminal.”

3. Lawyers be lawyering: Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom reports, “In the prime minister’s inner circle, tensions were running high ahead of the start of the hearing. Close associates were saying that Netanyahu believes that if he is given due process, he can demonstrate that the most serious allegations against him are baseless.”

  • Micha Fetman, the lawyer for another suspect in the case, tells Army Radio that the file is not as open and shut as the media makes it out. “I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the process he is charged with breach of trust and not bribery,” he says.
  • Jacque Chen, a lawyer for Elovitch, also tells Army Radio that there’s no bribery. “The leaks [to the media] were selective and created a singular narrative,” he alleges, though it’s worth noting that the bribery allegations were also in the published police recommendations and Mandelblit’s pre-indictment charge sheet.

4. Which hunt: Netanyahu’s main defense has been that this was a witch hunt by the media, police, prosecution and everyone else, a line echoed by his followers.

  • In Petah Tikva, some 200 Netanyahu supporters rallied near Mandelblit’s home, taking the place of the anti-Netanyahu protesters who used to hold weekly demonstrations there.
  • “They are trying to take down the best prime minister we ever had,” one protester tells Channel 13 news.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Amnon Lord also rages against the machine.
  • “The prosecution has assumed for itself the role of the court. The hearing’s outcome is as eagerly awaited as a verdict. Just because this is accepted in this country does not mean that it is in line with legal democratic norms,” he fumes.

5. Don’t speak: While his lawyers are busy sweating through his case file with the state’s attorneys, Netanyahu himself will be ensconced in his office chewing the fat with his right-wing and religious allies about coalition talks.

  • The party does not say what the discussion is about but Walla news reports it will revolve around coalition talks, or lack thereof.
  • The meeting was scheduled after Blue and White suddenly canceled planned talks Wednesday, including between Netanyahu and party leader Benny Gantz, essentially seen as the death rattle of already crippled talks.
  • While Blue and White canceled the meeting saying it did not believe Likud was negotiating in good faith, a party source tells Yedioth there’s another reason as well: the fact that Netanyahu scheduled the meeting on this particular day. “We don’t want to help Netanyahu get the hearing out of the headlines,” the source says.
  • Israel Hayom meanwhile quotes Likud’s assertion that the reason talks are blowing up is because Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid is torpedoing them in order to keep his rotation agreement with Gantz intact.

6. 1,2,3 what are we voting for? (Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn): What most can agree on, though, is that as talks collapse, Israel is moving closer to a third round of elections.

  • Hebrew University scholar Gideon Rahat compares Netanyahu and Gantz to two drivers playing chicken: “In the game of chicken, sometimes the result is that both drivers are killed. And that would be like chicken: We’ll have third elections because nobody will move,” he tells AFP.
  • Looking at the second elections, pollster Mark Mellman writes that voter attitudes did not change as much as people think. Rather what changed was Avigdor Liberman, who went from being a safe right-wing party to a wildcard.
  • “If Lieberman had continued his previous practice, Netanyahu would have been able to form a government after the April election and would have the parliamentary majority required to form a government again today.
    It’s Bibi’s battle with one man that is preventing him from reclaiming his seat as prime minister,” he writes.
  • In the far left magazine Jacobin, Douglas Gerrard argues that no matter who wins what election, Israel isn’t changing from its basic right-leaning tendencies anytime soon.
  • “Netanyahu, Gantz, or the WeWork guy; it doesn’t particularly matter who governs when the core assumptions are so utterly beyond question,” he writes. “Israeli democracy, as currently constituted, is irreducibly right wing. A pro-peace, anti-occupation politics won’t be conjured from the mass of parties presently competing for power. As much as any war or annexation, this is Netanyahu’s legacy.”
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