The ongoing corruption trial of Israel’s Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (who stepped down as Israel’s Prime Minister in mid-June 2021 after 12 consecutive years of service, replaced by Naftali Bennett), as well as the investigations that took place before it, have triggered a wide variety of legislative reform proposals. Members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) who oppose Netanyahu have proposed bills that would prevent individuals with sufficiently serious prior criminal convictions from serving as the Prime Minister (which Netanyahu is planning on trying to do again), or bar certain criminal defendants from running for Israel’s Presidency (which some had formerly speculated Netanyahu may do). Knesset members from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, on the other hand, have pushed to bolster protections for criminal suspects and defendants, especially elected officials. For example, Likud members have proposed bills that would prohibit some forms of recording of public servants, or make it more difficult for the prosecution to appeal acquittals.
The fact that the criminal proceeding against Netanyahu has relied in substantial part on the incriminating key testimony of Netanyahu’s former media advisor (who became a “state’s witness” in 2018) is the likely (though not explicit) motivation for another recently proposed bill that would establish a “media advisor-client privilege,” according to which “matters and documents exchanged between a media advisor or a spokesperson and his [or her] client  and which have a material relation to the services provided” could not be submitted as evidence unless the client waived this privilege. In other words, media advisors or spokespersons would generally be barred from testifying against their clients. The bill’s drafters argue that a media advisor-client privilege is justified for reasons similar to that of an attorney-client privilege—the need for “complete openness” between clients and their media advisors or spokespersons.
The impulse to resist the proposed media advisor-client privilege is understandable, given its seemingly blatant relationship to Netanyahu’s trial and the fact that its protection would be afforded to a very narrow class of powerful and wealthy criminal defendants. However, even though we should sometimes resist the impulse to oppose criminal justice reforms whose proponents have questionable motives, in this case even when considered independently from its problematic context, the proposal for media advisor-client privilege raises at least three strong anticorruption concerns that warrant its rejection:Continue reading