Ex-Netanyahu Aide Says Politician a 'Control Freak' Over His Image During Corruption Trial

An ex-spokesman and aide for Benjamin Netanyahu described the former Israeli prime minister as a "control freak" who went to great lengths to control his and his family's image in the media, the Associated Press reported.

Nir Hefetz took the stand Monday to testify as a key witness in a corruption trial that accused the opposition leader of offenses such as fraud, accepting bribes and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, who has denied all wrongdoing, is facing charges in three separate cases. One case alleged that Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from wealthy friends, including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Another alleged that Netanyahu coordinated positive media coverage in a top Israeli paper in trade for promoting legislation that would have had a negative impact on the paper's main rival, the AP reported.

The final case accused Netanyahu of allegedly promoting additional legislation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq, in exchange for providing beneficial coverage on its Walla news outlet, according to the AP.

"Netanyahu spends at least as much of his time on media as he spends on security matters, including on matters an outsider would consider nonsense," Hefetz said during his testimony

Hefetz said that he acted as the main go-between between the former prime minister and Elovitch. Elovitch's wife, Iris, also took direct control over the Walla news site, he said.

"Netanyahu had the greatest control over the Walla website, including what the headline would be, where it would be on the home page," Hefetz said. "I thought the Elovitches were doing a good job."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Hefetz Testifies in Netanyahu Trial
An ex-spokesman and aide for Benjamin Netanyahu described the former Israeli Prime Minister as a “control freak” who went to great lengths to control his and his family’s image in the media. Nir Hefetz, former spokesman of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured outside a Jerusalem court house, on November 16, 2021. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Hefetz left a long career in journalism in 2009 to work as a spokesman for Netanyahu's government, and in 2014 became the Netanyahu family's spokesman and adviser. In 2018, after he was arrested in connection with one of Netanyahu's corruption cases, Hefetz signed a state's witness deal and provided investigators with recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family.

His testimony was delayed by a week after Netanyahu's defense attorneys requested time to review new evidence. The information presented last week alleged that Netanyahu's wife, Sara, had accepted an expensive bracelet as a gift from Milchan and Packer.

Netanyahu appeared in the Jerusalem District Court Monday morning flanked by fellow Likud party politicians. Hours later, he was given permission to leave the court before the testimony ended.

Hefetz spent most of the day on the stand before the session ended late in the afternoon. His testimony is expected to continue for weeks or even months.

The former prime minister was indicted in 2019, repeatedly rejecting calls to step down. He has accused law enforcement, the media and courts of launching a "witch hunt" against him.

His trial formally began in 2020, while the country was embroiled in a two-year-long political crisis that saw four elections end in deadlock over Netanyahu's leadership and indictment. The trial is expected to take years.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu and his long-ruling Likud party were ousted from power after a coalition united in their opposition to the long-serving prime minister formed a government.

Netanyahu Aide Testimony
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial accused the opposition leader of offenses like committing fraud, accepting bribes and breaching trust. Netanyahu, third from left, is flanked by lawyers before testimony by star witness Nir Hefetz, a former aide, in his corruption trial at the District Court in east Jerusalem, Monday, November 22, 2021. Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo