Emulating Trump’s Anti-whistleblower Campaign, Israeli Justice Minister Ohana Flouts the Law to Protect Netanyahu

Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana alighted the Knesset podium on Wednesday and broke the law, or so it seems. Ohana violated a court-imposed gag order pertaining to the police questioning of Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and current state’s witness in his criminal investigations. Ohana claimed in his defense that he was only repeating information that had already been published, though no one has been able to locate his alleged source.

Since his temporary appointment in June as Justice Minister, Ohana has emerged as Bibi’s version of U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Just as Barr has directed his efforts at undermining the “Ukrainegate” and “Russiagate” investigations against Trump, Ohana is doing his part to undercut the legitimacy of the current criminal proceedings against the prime minister.  He blatantly broke the gag order in order to publicize the fact that police had allegedly summoned a young woman with whom the married Hefetz had purportedly been having an affair in order to pressure the former media adviser to turn against his former boss.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47Haaretz

The purpose of the revelation was to discredit Hefetz’s testimony in advance of the attorney general’s imminent decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, and on what charges. Even though Israel does not have an equivalent to the Miranda warnings and Israeli courts routinely accept testimony and evidence even if these were gathered in contravention of existing rules and regulations, Netanyahu’s defenders pounced on Ohana’s revelations as well as a series of other leaks from Hefetz’s testimony to declare it null and void. Suddenly, they care about the police's conduct.

With the active support of their fans in the media, Netanyahu’s disciples went on to demand that the entire case against Netanyahu in the so-called Case 4000– which deals with regulatory exemptions allegedly given to the Bezeq telecommunications giant in exchange for positive coverage in the Bezeq-owned news outlet Walla – be quashed. This, despite the fact that Hefetz’s testimony is corroborated by copious amounts of documents, emails and text messages, and notwithstanding the fact that the state’s case against Netanyahu in the Bezeq affair does not rely on Hefetz alone.

Ohana has thus enlisted himself and his august position in Netanyahu’s do or die campaign to avert prosecution. In doing so, he is also buttressing a general right-wing effort to erode public trust in Israeli institutions of law. Like in the famous parable of the man who murdered his parents and then asked for the court’s mercy because he is an orphan, Ohana cites the growing public distrust of Israel’s legal system, portraying himself as a virtual vox populi. Along with other ideologues who seek to detach Israel’s legal system from its Western, liberal and constitutional roots and replace them with conservative, nationalist and ethnocentric “Jewish values,” Ohana conveniently ignores the fact that he and his fellow campaigners are the main parties responsible for the erosion of public trust in the first place.

Ohana’s decision to attack the justice system for which he is responsible and to flout hitherto accepted norms and traditions – and in his case, the law itself – provides yet another striking parallel between the current states of Netanyahu’s Israel and Donald Trump’s United States. Like Barr, Ohana puts his personal loyalty to Netanyahu above his sworn duty to uphold the law and to support its practitioners.

And just as Trump and his minions have been openly, unashamedly and illegally calling for the public exposure of the original whistleblower in the Ukraine aid-for-dirt on Joe Biden scandal, Ohana has openly flouted the law in order to undermine Hefetz’s testimony and thus deter Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit from indicting the prime minister; of the three potential indictments against Netanyahu, the Bezeq case is the most severe, entailing a potential accusation of bribery, and not just fraud and breach of trust as in the other two.