Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday claimed the high number of witnesses named by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the charge sheet handed to the Knesset earlier in the day was evidence of his innocence.
Mandelblit published a list of 333 prosecution witnesses, including a veritable who’s who of Netanyahu associates and confidants, Israeli security chiefs, politicians and journalists, and numerous names not previously known to have been associated with the case.
“When there’s a real case, you don’t need 333 witnesses, and when there’s no real case, even 333 witnesses won’t help,” Netanyahu argued in a Twitter post.
That rhetorical flourish has been a recurring theme for Netanyahu throughout the investigations. In a video posted to Twitter in March 2018, he said the fact that prosecutors had offered his former aides a state’s witness deal signaled his innocence. “When you have something real, you don’t need even a single state witness. And when you have nothing, even a thousand state witnesses won’t help,” he said at the time.
“The need for hundreds of witnesses attests to the difficulty to convince [judges] of the validity of the false allegations,” Netanyahu wrote Monday in a subsequent Facebook post.
Netanyahu appeared to accuse Mandelblit — a close associate of his, who was appointed by him as attorney general after serving as his cabinet secretary — of undermining him politically.
The premier argued there had been no reason to announce the criminal charges two weeks ago, before the list of witnesses was ready, “exactly on the day Benny Gantz returned the mandate to form a government to the president.”
“It seems like the hasty and problematic way in which this document was handed to the Knesset speaker… indicates that the legal timetable was affected by the political timetable,” he wrote.
It is not clear how announcing the charges two weeks later would have benefited Netanyahu politically, however.
Mandelblit’s list of witnesses (which begins on page 45 of the Hebrew indictment) includes wealthy friends and patrons of Netanyahu over the years, such as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson; Ron Lauder; the two men involved in the so-called Case 1000 probe, Arnon Milchan and James Packer; and Netanyahu’s cousin and financial supporter Nathan Milikowsky, all of whom were known to have given witness testimony in the course of the investigations into the prime minister.
Also named among the witnesses are many of Netanyahu’s top advisers over the years, former top defense officials, current and former politicians, and prominent individuals not previously widely recognized to have been relevant to the case, including businessmen Len Blavatnik and Oracle Corporation’s Larry Ellison.
It is understood that those on the list have either been questioned as witnesses in the course of the investigations, or asked to give a statement to investigators, and that they would have been told that they are potential witnesses in any subsequent trial and/or that their evidence may be used in any trial.
Mandelblit published the list of prosecution witnesses as part of an indictment that he resubmitted on Monday to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edlestein. Mandeblit on November 21 formally issued charges against Netanyahu, and informed the Knesset speaker of those charges that same day. But on Monday, he added the witness list and specified that the trial would take place in Jerusalem District Court.
Netanyahu is accused of criminal wrongdoing in three cases, marking the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces criminal charges.
Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter being a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of colluding with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken the circulation of a rival daily owned by the Adelsons in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit charged the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes is charged with bribery.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit has charged Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery, and Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust as well.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has claimed he is the victim of an attempted coup. He said on November 21 that he would not resign but would, rather, continue to lead Israel “in accordance with the law.”
Netanyahu is permitted 30 days to ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity, a countdown that officially began Monday when Mandelblit presented a final version of the charge sheet to Knesset Speaker Edelstein. But the political deadlock, which has seen the Knesset House Committee that would review such a request remain dormant, indicates it could be months before his request would be considered, delaying the issuing of a formal indictment.