103 FM’s Nissim Meshaal spoke with court reporter Guy Peleg about the trial of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, which is set to commence next Sunday, May 24. This will be the first time in the history of the State of Israel that a prime minister is brought to trial during his term of office.
However, all those eagerly anticipating the pictures in the media of the Prime Minister in the dock will likely be disappointed, Peleg says. “The accused enter the court first, before the judges,” he explains. “No one can tell the Prime Minister or any other defendant to sit. When the judges enter, everyone rises, and that’s the moment when the photographers are ordered to leave. I have no doubt that a picture of the Prime Minister will not be permitted, as they are not going to alter the order of procedure and allow the defendant to enter after the judges.”
Commenting on the unprecedented nature of the trial, Peleg notes that, “The penny dropped for me a while ago already. The moment that the Attorney General decided to indict him, I realized where things were headed. I didn’t entertain any hopes that Netanyahu would manage to extricate himself from his predicament. But all the delays gave the general public time to digest the fact that their prime minister was being accused of criminal acts.”
Peleg adds that, “My feelings of shock this morning are due not only to the fact that the Prime Minister is to stand trial, but also due to the words of Minister David Amsalem (Likud), who dared to call Attorney General Mandelblit a ‘criminal’ – with no outcry in response. Nobody in the government protested his words except the Justice Minister, Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White). Likud ministers, the Prime Minister – how can they justify this? Statements such as these are basically libelous, and if Amsalem did not have parliamentary immunity, he would have been sued.”
What will happen next? “A long line of witnesses, including state witnesses, will appear. And one must bear in mind that judges accord less weight to the testimony of state witnesses. There are also a number of other witnesses in this case – private citizens giving testimony – chief among whom is Hadas Klein, Miltzin’s aide.
“The state has two witnesses in the main case against Netanyahu, Case 4000, and these are two particularly strong witnesses whose testimonies back each other’s up. There are also several other witnesses whose testimonies will shed light on matters – such as Ilan Yeshua, who was CEO of Walla!. There is also independent evidence, including recordings and text messages and email exchanges. So, it’s going to be very interesting…”
On the other hand, despite the huge bulk of evidence that will be presented against him, Peleg admits that there is no recording of Elovitch saying, “If you give me control over Walla!, I’ll make sure you get a billion shekels of tax breaks,” or the like. “But the prosecution is convinced that the evidence in their hands tells a clear-cut story of bribery and corruption, of shady dealings between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, though as to whether the judges will buy it? Only time will tell.”
Given the severity of the charges leveled against him, might it not be prudent for Netanyahu to ask for a plea bargain? Peleg replies that, “Netanyahu is no ordinary defendant. He has a stunning career in the public sector. To tell a serving prime minister, in fact the longest-serving prime minister in the admittedly short history of the State of Israel, ‘Resign your position and admit you’re a criminal,’ is no simple matter. If Netanyahu is found guilty, he’ll go to prison – he’s in a very perilous position. What I would tell him is this: ‘You’re putting yourself in a very dangerous position. You could easily end up in prison. Take this into account before you refuse to enter into negotiations with the authorities. You could save yourself years during which the trial drags on, not to mention the attendant humiliation.’”
“On the other hand,” Peleg concludes, “I understand a person who is put on trial and says, ‘I was brought here on trumped-up charges.’ It’s his right, and the right of any defendant, to say, ‘I didn’t do it!’ And one should respect such a person for having the strength to take this route.”