Prosecutor in Netanyahu case planned to quit to become a judge, but backtracked

Yehudit Tirosh applied for position as judge, interviewed with Judicial Appointments Committee, but decided to stick with case instead, about 10 months after indictment was filed

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh arrives at court in Jerusalem for a hearing in the case against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh arrives at court in Jerusalem for a hearing in the case against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Yehudit Tirosh, a prosecutor in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial, had reportedly planned to leave her position after the indictment against the premier was filed to try to become a judge.

Tirosh applied for a course for judges held by the Judicial Appointments Committee and intended to continue down that track after she joined the case and after its investigatory phase, Haaretz reported Sunday.

Committee members interviewed her after the indictment was filed, but, before her name was released as a candidate, she decided to freeze the process and continue in her role as a prosecutor, the report said.

Tirosh passed the committee’s preliminary selection tests and told the case’s lead prosecutor, Liat Ben Ari, about her plans to leave the prosecution.

The committee, which is in charge of appointing all of the country’s judges, has nine members, including three sitting members of the Supreme Court, the justice minister, another minister, two lawmakers, and two senior members of the Israel Bar Association.

Tirosh applied to become a judge in 2016, and in 2019, after police recommended the Netanyahu case go forward, she decided to take the course for judges and passed it with high marks.

In 2020, a few months after the indictment was filed in January, the Judicial Selection Committee approved her as a candidate, and she decided to move forward with an interview with committee members, including MK Zvi Hauser and Justice Uzi Fogelman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the first session of the evidentiary stage of his trial at Jerusalem District Court on April 5, 2021. He left the hearing after the lead prosecutor’s opening statement, before the start of witness testimony, at his own request and with the judges’ permission. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

At the end of last year, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Likud lawmaker Osnat Mark, both staunch defenders of Netanyahu, were added to the committee. Around four months later, Tirosh informed the committee that she had decided to freeze her candidacy, and also told Ben Ari.

She made the decision to backtrack in November 2020, 10 months after the indictment was filed.

Sources in the State Prosecutor’s Office told Haaretz that her decision was not related to the judicial appointment process.

A statement made to Haaretz on behalf of Tirosh confirmed the report, saying she “chose to freeze her candidacy for being a judge at this stage [of the trial] due to her desire to continue with her work as the director of the Securities Department of the State Attorney’s Office.”

Liat Ben-Ari, prosecutor in the corruption trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the trial, April 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial on graft charges began last week. It may continue for years and will likely include testimony from hundreds of witnesses.

The first week of witness testimony wrapped up Wednesday with the former CEO of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, telling the court he was repeatedly instructed to skew the site in favor of Netanyahu as part of an alleged deal.

Yeshua is a key witness in Case 4000, where the prime minister is accused of establishing an illegal quid pro quo with the owners of Walla in which they gave him favorable coverage and he granted them immensely lucrative regulatory favors.

Yeshua recounted how he was repeatedly instructed by his bosses and people close to Netanyahu to skew the news site, Israel’s second-largest, toward positive coverage of the premier and criticism of his rivals — and said he believed those instructions were part of a tradeoff deal between Netanyahu and the site’s owners.

On Tuesday, Yeshua detailed how he was asked to be part of a coverup effort to hide the alleged quid pro quo deal. The testimony was heard despite efforts by Netanyahu’s lawyers to disqualify parts of it.

Former CEO of the Walla news website Ilan Yeshua arrives for his testimony at in the case against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem, April 7, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The alleged transaction goes to the heart of Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against Netanyahu, in which he is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Netanyahu allegedly used his powers when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017 to illicitly benefit telecommunications magnate Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family by the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Elovitch and his wife Iris also face bribery charges in Case 4000. Other Bezeq officials were indicted in related, but separate, cases last year.

The trial is scheduled to continue from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, for at least the next few weeks.

Netanyahu was required to appear in court Monday at the start of the evidence phase, but was granted permission to leave early.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing in the cases against him and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police, and prosecutors to remove him from office.

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