The Netanyahu Corruption Case That Changed the Attorney General’s Mind

It's been nearly four years since the Israeli police got the first pieces of intelligence about businessmen giving favors to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. It was three and a half years ago that recordings were found on the phone of former Netanyahu aide Ari Harow, laying out a bribery deal between the prime minister and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth.

More than two years have elapsed since an Israel Securities Authority probe of fraud allegations against Shaul Elovitch, at the time Bezeq controlling shareholder, pointed to the use of Walla News, owned by the telecom giant, to extend favors to Netanyahu in the form of clearly biased coverage.

The indictments announced Thursday against Netanyahu, Mozes and Elovitch were born late after great labor pangs. There were moments, mainly toward the beginning, when Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, assuming the role of midwife, was reluctant to bring the gestating infants into the world and questioned their ability to hold themselves up.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit arrives at a press conference to announce indictments against Netanyahu, Jerusalem, November 21, 2019.Emil Salman

The turning point came early in 2018, when Mendelblit was gradually exposed to evidence in the then-secret investigation, later dubbed Case 4000: the police statement by Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua swearing to the Netanyahu family's aggressive appropriation of the website, with the blessing of the big boss; the exchange of blunt text messages among the main players; the attempt to obstruct the investigation in a mafia-style late-night meeting at a house in a tony north Tel Aviv suburb, and statements by senior Communications Ministry officials testifying to significant regulatory benefits handed to Elovitch.

Case 4000 was Mendelblit's lightbulb moment: The attorney general realized that Netanyahu was deeply afflicted with corruption. It is from that moment that this case and the other pending investigations against the prime minister were immediately fast-tracked.

Forgetful witness

The Walla-Bezeq-Netanyahu-Elovitch saga played out over four years, but its Archimedean point lasted just "a quarter-hour, 20 minutes," to quote witness turned state's evidence Shlomo Filber. It was what became known as the "armchair meeting" in the prime minister's office in mid-2015, right after Netanyahu decided to cast Filber, his campaign manager – "I brought him 30 Knesset seats," the witness humbly noted – in the role of director general of the Communications Ministry.