Israel: Nir Hefetz, mercenary communicator and key witness in the trial of Binyamin Netanyahu

LETTER FROM JERUSALEM

Soon, Nir Hefetz will fall back into anonymity. For three years, this fifth-rank character in the comedy of Israeli power has been in spite of himself on the front of the stage. In March 2018, he agreed to testify in court against his former master, former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, prosecuted for breach of trust, corruption and fraud. At the end of December 2021, this former journalist who became a communicator in the service of Mr. Netanyahu and his family finished appearing. After five weeks of hearing, the press is tired of him.

This week, the judges are looking at his case one last time: on Monday, January 10, they heard the police who questioned him in 2018, and who convinced him to testify for the prosecution. Mr. Hefetz compared their methods to those used by the Shin Bet (the internal intelligence service) on Palestinian detainees in the occupied territories. He had been shocked to meet in the corridors of the police headquarters a woman he was close to, summoned by the investigators, then his wife. The police had assured him that his family was “in existential danger”. On Tuesday, one of them told the judges, partly under the seal of secrecy, that these proceedings had nothing to do with “special”.

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Before Mr. Hefetz fades away, it is useful to dwell on this key witness of an unprecedented trial in all respects, which saw a Prime Minister rail against justice for three years, until his fall in June 2021, and which will keep Mr. Netanyahu, now leader of the opposition, busy for a long time to come. Mr. Hefetz, 57, occasionally doubles his short sentences of staring, pinched smile, receding chin, to journalists attending the hearings. He was one of them and despises them – “a gang of leftists”, he said.

Without a known political opinion, he admits to having been a journalist under the orders of his owners: Arnon Mozes, boss of the major daily Yedihot Aharonot and sworn enemy of Mr. Netanyahu, also prosecuted for corruption in this trial. Then the investor Nochi Dankner, who bought the daily Maariv, before being sentenced for money laundering.

Netanyahu’s media obsession

Mr. Hefetz went to the service of Mr. Netanyahu in 2009, then from 2014 to 2017. Former adviser, communicator, bearer of messages, he complacently expands on the obsession with the media which, according to him, guides Mr. Netanyahu . On his “control madness” of the press. On the hours spent listening to him oppose ” them “ – the enemy press – and ” we “ – the right. On his efforts to place loyal columnists in the country’s dailies. On his trips to foreign billionaires, whom Mr. Netanyahu hoped to convince to create an Israeli Fox News, or to invest in media that would serve his cause: the Australian Rupert Murdoch, the American Larry Elison, the most wealthy UK Len Blavatnik (who bought a dominant stake in the small chain 13), and Mathias Döpfner, the boss of the German press group Axel Springer.

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Israel: Nir Hefetz, mercenary communicator and key witness in the trial of Binyamin Netanyahu

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