Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team has not managed to refute charges against the Israeli leader during two days of hearings on the most serious of the three criminal cases he faces, state prosecution officials told Channel 13 on Saturday.
The comments by unnamed prosecution officials came after Channel 12 a day earlier claimed that Netanyahu’s attorneys had surprised justice officials with strong arguments in Case 4000, that prosecutors expected to have to do further significant work after the hearings, and that parts of the prosecution’s “thesis” on the case might need to be “reexamined.”
A lawyer for Netanyahu said on both days he was convinced that new evidence being presented on behalf of the prime minister would leave state prosecutors with no option but to close all the cases.
The hearings will resume Sunday, with the prosecution and the prime minster’s defense team reconvening to wrap up discussions on Case 4000, then moving on to Cases 1000 and 2000.
Deliberations on the three cases had been set to end by the eve of Yom Kippur on Tuesday. But talks on Case 4000 were not concluded on Thursday as planned, leading to the possibility that the hearings will be extended beyond the holy day in order to allow the entirety of the material to be addressed. Channel 12 reported on Friday that the hearings would not be extended, but this was not confirmed.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have secured improved coverage from the Walla website in a quid pro quo arrangement in which he approved business arrangements of immense financial benefit to Walla’s owner Shaul Elovitch, the then majority shareholder in Israel’s Bezeq telecommunications giant.
Channel 13 on Saturday also aired new testimonies from Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from wealthy benefactors, notably Arnon Milchan and James Packer, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
According to the TV network, Milchan’s personal assistant Hadas Klein told investigators that he always brought gifts when he met Netanyahu and his wife Sara as “it wasn’t possible to come empty handed. The Netanyahus would be very disappointed, to put it lightly.”
She said Netanyahu often asked Milchan for cigars, and once “put a piece of a cigar in my hand that he liked, so we would look for that brand.”
“‘Find me that, I like that,'” she quoted him as saying.
One piece of testimony by Milchan himself claimed Sara once demanded an expensive piece of jewelry for her birthday. When the businessman hesitated, Milchan said “Sara told my assistant ‘You’re disgracing me, tell him he’s disgracing me.'”
“Then Netanyahu called me and said ‘Listen, she’s been bled dry, help her. She’s being slaughtered every day in the press’… he said there was legal authorization, that it checked out 100 percent.”
Responding to the report, the Prime Minister’s Office called it “a lie” and said the incidents it detailed “never happened.” It said the reporting was “one sided, criminal, partial and biased.”
Meanwhile, Saturday evening saw protests and counter-protests near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva.
Several hundreds supporters of the prime minister chanted in his favor and called for “justice.”
On his Facebook page, Netanyahu thanked the “thousands” for their support.
Speaking in support of the premier at the rally was Orna Peretz, a Likud activist who once made headlines after Netanyahu called her “boring” when she interrupted his speech in Kiryat Shmona.
“We have to defeat the minority sitting there,” she said, apparently referring to officials investigating Netanyahu. “Bibi, you’re not alone. The entire public is with you,” she said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
Also speaking out for Netanyahu was Charlie Azaria, the father of IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was jailed for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in 2016 and who has since been released.
“Today they’re setting up Bibi, yesterday they set up my son, tomorrow they’ll set you up,” he said. “We need to fight the corruption of the prosecution.”
A smaller group of counter-protesters was nearby, calling for the prime minister’s indictment in the cases against him. Police served as a buffer between the two crowds.
Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed, without providing evidence, that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the prosecution.
However Netanyahu’s lawyer Ran Caspi said Wednesday he had “complete, unreserved faith” in justice officials leading the investigation against the prime minister.
As part of the hearing process last week Netanyahu’s lawyers presented a legal opinion from five American professors, including Alan Dershowitz, arguing that investigating the swaying of media coverage as a criminal offense constitutes a danger to democracy.
One of the professors asked for an audience with Mandelblit, who turned down the request but said he would read the US professors’ legal opinion himself, Channel 12 news reported Friday.
The network did not specify on what grounds the professors argued that prosecuting leaders for seeking to be portrayed in a positive light — in return for benefits — endangers democracy.
Dershowitz has previously stated that politicians routinely negotiate with news outlets on coverage, telling Army Radio last year that “interfering in the relationship between media and the government poses a tremendous danger to free speech.”