Israeli Police Hacked Phones to Target Netanyahu; Evidence Would Be Inadmissible in U.S. Courts

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 21: (ISRAEL OUT) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on d
Lior Mizrahi/Getty

The trial of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has revealed in recent days that police hacked the phones of close aides to Netanyahu without authority — which would, in the U.S., make the resulting evidence inadmissible in court.

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption in a case that his allies say reflects an effort by Israel’s left-wing legal fraternity to target him. He is accused of attempting to negotiate with a newspaper for better coverage; accepting unauthorized gifts, such as cigars, from a friend; and for interference in a telecommunications deal. The charges are considered flimsy and politically motivated; supporters of the case against Netanyahu argue they are a test of Israel’s ability to hold politicians accountable.

During the trial, it emerged that Israeli police used illicit spyware to target Netanyahu aides who were turned into state witnesses. As the UK Guardian has reported:

A key figure in the corruption trial of Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been illegally bugged by police, according to reports, amid global controversy about Israeli-made spyware and how it has been used.

In a recording broadcast by Channel 12 news, police are heard allegedly discussing tapping a phone belonging to Shlomo Filber, a former Netanyahu ally turned state witness. “It’s as if it’s illegal … to install the application,” a police officer says.

The claim emerged days after Israeli officials admitted that – contrary to earlier denials – they may have found evidence pointing to improper use of spyware by its own investigators.

The alleged hacking is linked to a broader scandal in which an Israeli company is alleged to have sold spyware to foreign governments. As Politico noted Sunday, there have also been revelations that the spyware was used to spy on Israeli citizens.

The hacking may have affected more than one witness — and information gained in the hacking may have been used by police to force witnesses to turn against Netanyahu. The Times of Israel noted on Saturday:

Other prominent figures involved in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial likely had their phones hacked by police investigators, Hebrew TV reports claimed Friday, a day after the networks revealed that police drained data from the phone of Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Minister director-general who is one of the key state’s witness in Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against the ex-premier.

Channel 13 reported that a second defendant … “apparently” had his phone targeted by police spyware.

Channel 12, for its part, quoted an unnamed senior police official saying that an unspecified number of other people connected to the Netanyahu cases were hit by targeted by police using spyware. “The State Prosecutor’s Office was aware. It’s not just Filber. There are others, and everything was done with the approval and authorization [of the state prosecution],” the official was quoted saying, contradicting anonymous prosecution officials who have been quoted in recent days claiming that police investigators illicitly used phone hacking software without their knowledge.

Leaks about the allegations against Netanyahu were used in several elections and played a role in his eventual replacement in last year’s election — even though his Likud Party received more votes than any other.

Netanyahu tweeted that the revelations were an “earthquake,” and there are growing calls for an inquiry into whether Israel’s law enforcement apparatus violated the law and civil liberties in an attempt to bring down the prime minister.

In the U.S., evidence obtained without legal authority is inadmissible at a criminal trial as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” If the evidence that is excluded is important enough to the prosecution’s case, the charges may be dismissed entirely.

Other methods used to encourage witnesses to turn against Netanyahu have shocked the public. The Jerusalem Post has reported that former Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz was subject to intense pressure under interrogation, and essentially blackmailed into testifying:

On Tuesday and Wednesday, under cross-examination by Netanyahu lawyer Boaz Ben-Tzur, Hefetz detailed that “monstrous” pressure and described “draconian” interrogation methods.

These included sleep deprivation, lack of food, failure to receive medical treatment and unsanitary conditions.

And that was just on the physical side.

Emotionally, he testified that he was threatened over and over that information would come to light that would bring about his financial ruin, destroy his family, and make it so that neither his children nor his wife would ever want to see him again.

While casting the prosecution against Netanyahu as an attempt to save democracy and the rule of law, Netanyahu’s pursuers may have compromised both — a parallel to the many investigations undertaken by U.S. law enforcement and Democrats against former President Donald Trump.

Political parallels aside, the case against Netanyahu would be severely curtailed and could be thrown out altogether in a U.S. court.

In the eyes of the Israeli media — long biased against Netnayahu — the case is already losing legitimacy, and rapidly so.

An editorial in Monday’s Post was titled: “Israel’s police cannot commit crimes to fight crime.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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