Hadas Klein, the youngest witness in the corruption trial of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may have come from the central casting.
In two days of compelling testimonials, Klein, 57 – slim, expressive and confident, and with her hair done in a neat square – revealed exactly what she is: a top-notch executive assistant who has witnessed extraordinary events.
About halfway through Wednesday’s recitation, her testimony took a turn that could have been gleaned from a mafia tribunal. Klein, an aide to Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer and a close friend of Netanyahu for thirty years, described her efforts to conceal the identity of the beneficiary of her purchases from “Cookie,” the owner of a Tony cigar boutique in Tel Aviv’s posh Herzliya suburb .
“Cookie – that’s his name,” wanted to know who enjoyed the Cuban cigars, which she bought from them for around $27,328 a year.
“I paid for everything with my personal credit card because I was trying to shield Netanyahu. I didn’t want to put it on Arnon’s credit card to shield him. Cookie never gave us a discount, but he gave us Dominican cigars for free… I accepted them and asked Arnon about them and he said, “Sure, why not?” And of course nothing stayed with us. We also transferred the gifts to Mr. Netanyahu.”
Cookie squeezed her. “Cookie told me that only a very small club of people in the country consumes cigars this length and diameter, so who is that?”
Two Monte Cristo cigars cost $630, she recalls. Netanyahu enjoyed dunking her in Cointreau before indulging in a cigarette, she said.
But Klein brought back more than her memories. As a meticulous clerk, she provided investigators and the court with all the receipts, bills, and bank transfers related to these purchases and more. Her text messages about the purchases and their disposal were relentlessly projected onto a screen in Judge Rivka Feldman-Freidman’s small courtroom.
The central cog was small a full-fledged “well-organized mechanism” of Netanyahu’s illegal demands for goods from wealthy “friends” and the distribution of the resulting “gifts,” which Israeli prosecutors believe constitute bribery.
Like Cassidy Hutchinson, Klein witnessed the Netanyahu’s most intimate behavior. Like Hutchinson, she was overlooked by those in power. And like Hutchinson, she framed her testimony as an act of patriotism.
“I am fulfilling my duties as a citizen of this country,” she told journalists in the hallway, surrounded by police bodyguards. “I’ve been asked to make a statement and I’m doing it. I’m doing what would have made my parents proud.”
During her testimony, which also included unflattering portrayals of Milchan, Klein worried about the possibility of losing her job.
Klein differs from the previous high-profile witnesses at Netanyahu’s trial, in which he faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate criminal cases, which in one way or another include allegations that he abused his position for personal gain.
Both Nir Hefetz, the one-time head of Netanyahu’s fearsome communications department, and Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of Israel’s communications ministry under Netanyahu, have been compelling but reluctant witnesses, testifying for the state only in the context of what they hope will be pleadings they will keep them out of law enforcement.
Hefetz testified that “in everything that has to do with the media, [Netanyahu] is much more than a control freak… Netanyahu spends at least as much time on media as on security matters.”
Echoing Netanyahu, Filber called the process “a witch hunt” and described unenthusiastically as receiving direct orders from the prime minister demanding a “relaxation” of regulations on Shaul Elovitch, a cronie who ran Israel’s largest communications conglomerate worth hundreds of millions of Dollar.
“The cigars were for Netanyahu.”
Klein, on the other hand, testified voluntarily, apparently relieved, and is not suspected of any crime.
She described Netanyahu’s repeated calls on her cellphone, claiming he obtained “legal counsel” approval for the stream of gifts he was demanding for his wife. “You don’t understand,” the prime minister scolded his friend’s assistant. “She only gets upset because the media is massacring. Give her anything she wants. Everything is allowed, I checked. Don’t shed their blood like the media does.”
Klein described a massive personnel apparatus through which the Netanyahus appropriated an unlimited flow of luxuries from Milchan, who ranted about it, saying to Klein, “We have no choice. There is no other way with them,” and Packer, whom she described as a vulnerable Netanyahu groupie.
Milchan, she said, “enjoyed the proximity to power. He liked being able to say he was friends with the prime minister,” but was an unfortunate participant in the scheme, which involved hiding cases of Dom Perignon pink champagne in refrigerators.
In March 2016, Klein recalled, as she was returning home from a private trip to Cuba – her 50th birthday – an irate Netanyahu allegedly complained that she had only sourced Cohiba 54 cigars for him and not his favourites, the Cohiba 56s. “You couldn’t get them anywhere,” she said. “There just wasn’t any.”
The Netanyahus spoke to her in code, calling cigars “leaves” and champagne “rosy,” but were direct and to the point about other demands, Klein claimed. She said Sara Netanyahu’s demand for a specific gold ring and necklace from a trendy Tel Aviv jeweler was conveyed to Klein after a conference call in which Milchan, who is scheduled to testify later in the trial, received the prime minister’s explicit approval.
Klein’s statement was full of details and sparkling pearls. In contrast to Netanyahu, she described Yair Lapid, Israel’s current acting prime minister – Netanyahu’s rival in the upcoming 2022 elections – refusing to deliver a bouquet of flowers sent by Milchan when he was appointed finance minister in 2013. When the well-connected Milchan once forgot an expensive set of headphones at Lapid’s house: “Arnon told me to tell him to just leave them there. Yair called and said, “No way. Send the driver to pick it up.’”
She shared reminiscences of the time Hugh Jackman allegedly met with Netanyahu, which was another opportunity for the prime minister to make off with cigars. Judge Moshe Baram, a member of the three-judge panel hearing the case, asked Klein how she knew “the cigars were not intended for the actor.”
Klein replied, “Because I was there. The cigars were for Netanyahu.”