Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial continues without the typical media hype around every little detail that characterized coverage in previous years. Of the four cases Netanyahu is facing, the most serious is “Case 4000,” in which the former prime minister is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The “give and take” was between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, owner of Eurocom Group who is also the controlling shareholder of Israel’s Bezeq telecommunications company and the Walla news portal.
According to the charges, Netanyahu delivered on his part of the bargain by personally intervening in regulatory decisions favoring Elovitch, that translated to at least 1.8 billion shekels. Elovitch in turn tilted Walla’s news coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family when asked to do so.
The indictment further charges both Netanyahu and Elovitch with covering up their corrupt activities by, in the case of Elovitch and his wife, destroying “evidence found on their mobile phones … and instructing (Walla CEO Ilan Yeshuah) to give false and contradicting versions regarding … the relationships between them and the accused Netanyahu and regarding (Netanyahu’s) demands to intervene in the various publications (of Walla).”
Netanyahu’s trial is believed by most right-wingers to be rigged from the get-go. Criminalizing Netanyahu, they say while pointing to supporting evidence, was part of the Left’s effort to bring him down, with the Right camp with him. And, they say, things began to go terribly wrong for the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) once Netanyahu decided to reject all plea bargains and prove his innocence in court. The AGO, so right-wingers say, was certain Netanyahu would resign or opt for some kind of a deal, which is why it has done such a sloppy job of building a case against him with solid, beyond-doubt incriminating evidence. Conversely, the Left has already indicted Netanyahu, which goes to show that whichever way one looks at it, Netanyahu’s trial is every bit a political performance.
Project 315, the subject of this article, has set out to look into all the 315 cases of Walla articles supposedly favoring Netanyahu, which are listed in the bill of indictment. For the untrained eye this long list looks downright incriminating. It is also hard to imagine why anyone would doubt this legal evidence submitted to the court by the AGO. And checking all 315 articles is such a daunting task that one might assumed that no one would be insane enough to do it.
But there were a few people insane enough to do just that, to verify every one of these 315 incriminating articles. The findings of Project 315 are astonishing. They show that almost all of these articles are not only not pro-Netanyahu, they are actually critical of him.
To learn more about this unprecedented project I met with Adi Szabo, who joined Guy Levi, former spokesperson for then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana, and Moshik (Moshe) Kovarsky, among those who started Valor Computerized Systems. Levi was the one to come up with the idea to verify all of the 315 articles. Kovarsky immediately joined him. Szabo came third.
Since September 30, Project 315 started to upload on their website short videos explaining their findings in a simple straightforward language. Once finished, the project will move on to deal with the more complex area of government regulations that Netanyahu allegedly breached. Financial regulations are aimed at forcing rules and social norms on financial markets in order to protect the interests of the public and society.
Szabo, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, lived most of her life as a passive leftist. The move from Left to Right was painful. In Israel, one has to have courage to go public with this kind of shift. “During the process of coming out of the closet,” she says, “many friends and family members have cut ties with me.” That change of viewpoint happened about four years ago, following her realization that the Left was no longer what it used to be. She found herself gravitating toward the Right, first as a seeker attending various right-wing groups and lectures, and then as an activist who became a public figure, particularly following her involvement with Project 315. And it is not as if she didn’t care before, but today she says (fully aware that it sounds somewhat megalomaniacal): “I feel that sometimes the fate of the Jewish people rests upon my shoulders.”
Israel Today: What has happened in Israel in the past few years that alarms you so much?
Szabo: There are processes here that call into question our inalienable rights, like being proud of our flag and national anthem, or that being patriotic is a good thing. Today there are those who feel uncomfortable with “the Jewish soul yearns” (from the national anthem) because it excludes the other. I agree with Gadi Taub, who sees the Left as the globalists who are ashamed of their narrow sense of nationality. So my need to act comes also from seeing the national camp being humiliated and trampled. I meet many people whom I never met before who feel trampled, degraded. An enormous urge built inside me to lift up the head of the national camp, to restore people’s pride.
So what led you to Project 315?
About six months ago I heard Guy Levi, who initiated Project 315, speaking on (right-wing) Galey Israel radio. Levi was addressing the Netanyahu’s cases, and had read the hundred pages of indictment against him, something few people had done. He noted that things don’t line up. He noticed discrepancies and lies written in this legal indictment. I laughed when I first heard about our prime minister being accused of unlawfully receiving “sympathetic coverage” (from Walla ) because everyone living here knows that more than any other politician in Israel ever, Netanyahu has been slandered by the media.
Anyway, Levi talked about the addendum attached to the indictment bill, listing all the 315 cases of sympathetic coverage, the bribe for which Netanyahu now stands trial. These 315 cases are the “giving” part of any bribe charge, that must meet three conditions – giving, receiving and mental basis.
What was the trigger for Levi?
Paragraph 11 referring to Forbes Israel picking Sara Netanyahu as the country’s strongest woman in 2013. The AGO claimed that Netanyahu demanded that Walla cover Forbes‘ choice.
This was the “coverage event” that first caught Levi’s attention. He couldn’t figure out how something that was being covered by every media outlet could somehow be portrayed as “sympathetic” coverage in Walla. The allegation became more confusing when Levi realized that Walla’s coverage of the Forbes choice wasn’t at all sympathetic toward Netanyahu.
It is instructive to remind everyone at this point that during the trial itself, the AGO altered the criminal charge against Netanyahu from “sympathetic coverage” to “exceptional acceptance” (of Netanyahu’s requests to change articles), and then to “open door” (allowing Netanyahu to intervene in Walla’s content publication whenever he wanted). The AGO, to be clear, has never defined any criterion for any of these charges.
Project 315 has since set out to look into all 315 paragraphs accusing Netanyahu of receiving unlawful “sympathetic” coverage from Walla. What have you found?
Let me just reiterate that for a bribe to be a bribe it must meet three criteria, “receiving,” in Netanyahu’s case “sympathetic coverage” from Walla. “Giving” is the alleged regulatory benefits worth 1.8 billion shekels that Shaul Elovitch received from Netanyahu. As for “mental basis,” which means undeniable evidence of intention to engage in a bribe deal, to the best of my knowledge the AGO hasn’t provided any evidence whatsoever that can prove, let alone beyond doubt, that Netanyahu had any intention of taking part in a bribe deal. Add to it that the fact that the AGO never verified whether or not there was actually any “exceptional acceptance.”
They didn’t verify their own charges? Why?
I don’t know. I can’t get inside their heads. I can only speculate that they wanted so badly to submit this indictment as soon as possible, because, and again I am speculating here, this whole bill of indictment was a legal means to achieve a political coup.
Can you back this with any evidence?
The evidence is the mobile phone of Walla CEO Ilan Yeshuah. The AGO extracted from it text messages and emails from Netanyahu’s close associates, showing their requests for Yeshuah to change content, remove an article, etc. For his part, Yeshuah responded with “okay,” “been taken care of,” “will be taken care of,” and the like. Each one of these “all right” responses related to one of the 315 cases of sympathetic coverage. So, for example, Netanyahu’s spokesperson asks Walla to write about Sara Netanyahu’s visit to a women’s shelter. In response, Yeshuah writes “will be taken care of.” The AGO claimed this is an instance of “a demand met,” when in fact they didn’t check whether or not the demand was met. (The bill of indictment was submitted during the run-up to the 2019 election).
So, the bottom line, what have you found after checking all 315 articles?
We found that in 136 cases (43%) Netanyahu’s demand was not met, which makes these false charges. I’ll give you one extreme example. The indictment claims Netanyahu demanded an article be deleted and that this demand was met. But we found that the article in question had nothing to do with Netanyahu or his associates, and instead related to former government minister Silvan Shalom.
In 155 of the 315 cases (49%) we found no “exceptional acceptance” because the requests from Netanyahu are similar to those issued by other politicians’ spokespersons to other media outlets, sometimes word-for-word.
Of the remaining 24 cases (8%), 13 (4%) are requests from associates, not from Netanyahu himself, which is what the AGO itself says. Two percent are cases that cannot be verified because though the accusing paragraph says a demand was met, it fails to say who demanded what and what is the subject of the article. We recognized the last 2% as exceptional acceptance that falls under the category of exclusive news that every media outlet strives for.
Dark green: nonexceptional acceptance
Green: nonaccepted demands
Yellow: Netanyahu not involved
Your findings, are they recognized as legal evidence?
No. Though we present hard facts, we are not professionals. But we submitted our material to Netanyahu’s legal defense team, and that prompted them to hire a professional firm that will submit to the court legally-accepted evidence.
I have seen only right-wing Channel 20 talk about you. Have your findings reached the Israeli public?
We’ve tried unsuccessfully to interest other media channels. I know for a fact that journalists, lawyers and judges are following up on us, but we are blocked by chief editors whose agenda runs contrary to our findings. But we hope that at one point or another mainstream news outlets will address our project.
I hear top lawyers who say right-wingers are reaching premature conclusions, and that no one can tell now how the trial will end.
Those who say it speak in general terms. They refuse to engage with facts.
Given the hostile environment toward Netanyahu, is a fair trial at all possible?
I don’t know. I pray every day that he will receive his day in court. It frightens me to think of the possibility that our country has decided to give up on justice and values. This is why despair for us is not an option. It is time for each and every one of us to do whatever we can for justice’s sake.
The following is a timeline of main events relating specifically to Case 4000 and leading up to Netanyahu’s indictment and trial. Readers are advised to note the correlations between national elections and these events, especially those surrounding the trial itself.
December 2012-January 2017: Netanyahu and Elovitch begin their “give and take” relationship.
January 2013: Elections. Netanyahu remains prime minister.
March 2015: Elections. Netanyahu remains prime minister.
June 2015: Netanyahu as Communications Minister approves a merger between Bezeq and the Yes satellite television company. It was later proved that this merger was first approved by the Attorney General and regulators.
December 2016: The Attorney General approves a criminal investigation against Netanyahu concerning alleged receipt of gifts of cigars, champagne and jewelry (later to be found that he did so without written permission required by law).
February 2017: Netanyahu is investigated for the first time in relation to cases 1000 and 2000.
February 2018: Police recommend putting Netanyahu on trial for cases 1000 and 2000.
March 2018: Netanyahu and his wife Sara are investigated for the first time in relation to Case 4000.
December 2018: Police recommend putting Netanyahu and Elovitch on trial for Case 4000.
February 2019: Attorney General announces a bill of indictment subject to a hearing.
April 2019: Elections. Netanyahu remains caretaker prime minister after failing to form a government.
September 2019: Elections. Netanyahu is again unable to form a government, as are his rivals.
October 2019: Netanyahu’s hearing.
January 2020: Bill of indictment against Netanyahu.
April 2021: The first session of Netanyahu’s trial begins with the first and most important prosecution witness, Walla CEO Ilan Yeshuah (of whom the judges said they can’t tell when he is lying and when he is telling the truth). Yeshuah’s testimony sessions lasted six months.
June 2021: The new Bennett-Lapid government is sworn in.
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