8/4/2017 Netanyahu Aide to Testify Against Him

While Americans have one major political/legal drama to follow, denizens of Tel Aviv are following two dramas, each of which is composed of chapters that are unfolding at a dizzying speed. Israelis are closely following the sagas of the Trump administration. By this morning, many had already heard about the creation of grand jury. Although nearly none knew what a grand jury was, since Israel does not have any, all understood it meant developments were advancing at a much faster pace.

However, the big news in Israel in the last 24 hours has been the acceleration of the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yesterday, police requested and received a gag order against further publication of information regarding testimony that a new state witness is expected to assert against Netanyahu. During the course of their notification of the standing gag order, police cited a term never heard before relating to the Netanyahu investigations — i.e., that the Prime Minister was suspected of having received bribes. Until yesterday, the only claims leveled against Netanyahu were only "breach of trust" and some version of "fraud", whose literal Hebrew meaning is not quiet as harsh as the English word implies.

Bribery, however, has a much more serious implication and the use of that term reverberated through Israel last night. Today, the news broke that the witness, none other than Ari Harow, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, had signed a state witness agreement. Harow has officially agreed to testify against his former boss. One police official reportedly said that Harow's testimony was explosive. Harow agreed to testify in return for not doing any jail time in an unrelated case.

Harow is expected to provide testimony in both Case 1000 and Case 2000. Case 1000 alleges Netanyahu's illegal receipt of gifts, while Case 2000 probes into a potentially illegal arrangement Netanyahu allegedly negotiated with the publisher the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, in exchange for receiving favorable coverage. Harow may give additional testimony on unrelated wrongdoings from his period as head of Likud USA. While this is taking place, the police continue to take testimony from Mickey Granot, a state witness in the case of reported bribes given in the process ordering of submarines from Germany. Until now, Netanyahu has not been implicated directly in the submarine affair, though his cousin, who served as his attorney has been.

Once the police complete their investigations — which are expected to take a few more weeks — they are required to present their recommendation to the Attorney General, as to whether or not criminal charges are to be brought. The Israeli system allows a defendant who is a public figure to rebut those charges before a decision is taken to indict. Israel has settled law regarding whether a sitting Minister has to resign once indicted. However, whether the Prime Minister is also required to do so remains disputed. In the one case, when substantive allegations were raised against him, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did resign.

As of now, Netanyahu’s coalition is standing by him, with the Justice Minister Ayelet Shaket announcing publicly there is no reason for Netanyahu to resign if indicted. With no clear successor in the wings — such as Trump's successor, Vice President Pence, (Netanyahu eliminated the position of deputy Prime Minister for this very reason), it is unclear how events might unfold in the coming months.