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Netanyahu trial

Key witness says he made media demands for Sara Netanyahu under premier’s name

Hefetz says he was conflicted about testifying against former PM’s wife: ‘She has many beautiful qualities’; says neither he nor Netanyahu thought they were doing anything illegal

Nir Hefetz seen as he arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz seen as he arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A key witness for the prosecution in Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial said Wednesday that he had on multiple occasions made demands of the Walla news site under Netanyahu’s name when the requests actually came from his wife, Sara Netanyahu.

He also said both he and the former premier “did not think that what we were doing was illegal.”

Former Netanyahu family spokesman and confidant Nir Hefetz said he made the requests in Netanyahu’s name to former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to better convince him to do his bidding. But he said he never deceived Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch.

Hefetz is the state’s star witness in Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases in which Netanyahu is facing charges. The ex-premier is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.

“Sometimes I used the name of [Benjamin] Netanyahu as the one making the request, when the request from [Sara] was not well-founded, so they wouldn’t refuse it,” Hefetz said Wednesday, during his fourth week on the stand.

“I didn’t trust Yeshua. When the requests went to Elovitch, I said exactly who they were from,” Hefetz said.

Hefetz said he had conflicted feelings about testifying against the former premier’s wife. Sara Netanyahu has been involved in numerous controversies, such as allegedly abusive behavior toward housekeeping staff, and is sometimes portrayed in Israeli media as domineering and volatile.

Hefetz said, “My biggest emotional difficulty in signing the agreement to be a state’s witness, aside from my own family, was Sara Netanyahu.”

Benjamin Netanyahu was aware that Hefetz was sending messages for Sara, Hefetz said. The premier sometimes wrote messages on Sara’s behalf because “he felt she was being hurt because of him.”

“Also because he really loves her, unlike what the stories say.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara address their supporters on the night of the Israeli elections, at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hefetz said Sara Netanyahu “has many beautiful qualities that are not expressed in the media. Even when I worked to balance the picture, I did it in good faith.”

Hefetz has provided prosecutors with key information as an interlocutor between Netanyahu and Elovitch. Hefetz was often the one communicating the premier’s wishes to Walla management and has testified on the nature of this relationship.

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.

Last week, Hefetz said that he left his position in 2017 because he feared the then-prime minister was no longer fit to serve. Hefetz alleged that there was a top-secret security incident during his tenure that endangered thousands.

He also said last week that the premier tried “to rob the state’s funds for personal needs” on dozens of occasions.

Hefetz said Netanyahu was reluctant to pay for anything out of pocket “a la Case 1000,” in which the former prime minister 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.

“He continued [with this behavior] when I was sure he knew he was in a criminally problematic place,” Hefetz said.

Hefetz also said he had warned Netanyahu about what later became Case 2000, in which the former premier 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’s testimony has mostly pertained to Case 4000, but some of it has related to Case 2000.

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.

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