Haaretz Journalist Questioned by Police Over Phone Calls to Lawmaker

Nir Gontarz was interrogated for more than two hours for calling Yael German 12 times in two days. His phone was apparently hacked to check his conversations.

Haaretz journalist Nir Gontarz and lawmaker Yael German.
Haaretz journalist Nir Gontarz and lawmaker Yael German. Olivier Fitoussi and courtesy

Police apparently searched the telephone of Haaretz writer Nir Gontarz and questioned him for more than two hours on suspicion he had harassed lawmaker Yael German (Yesh Atid) with repeated phone calls. The police apparently hacked the reporter's phone to check his conversations.

“The questioning was supervised by Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhak, the head of the investigations and intelligence branch, as regulations require,” police spokesman Merav Lapidot said. According to the attorney-general’s guidelines for summoning and searching a journalist, the head of the investigations branch must approve the summons.

Gontarz, who has a weekly Haaretz column where he reports on impromptu phone conversations with figures in the news, received a phone call from the Kfar Sava police Wednesday afternoon, summoning him to the police station immediately. From the questions asked during the investigation, Gontarz understood that the police had hacked into his cell phone to obtain records of his conversations.

At the advice of attorney Tali Lieblich, Haaretz’s legal adviser, Gontarz answered all the questions by saying, “This is a political investigation that is against regulations.”

“All of them knew I was a journalist with Haaretz,” said Gontarz. “In the end I was asked to sign a release on bail that forbids me to contact her [German]. I refused. The detective said he would arrest me, but in the end he told me orally that I was forbidden to contact her.”

Gontarz promised not to get back to the MK for 24 hours but said that if he needed to ask her a work-related question the following day he would call her. In response the police said he was putting himself at risk of arrest.

Gontarz was subjected to the hours of questioning because during October he had called German 12 times over two days while blocking his number. The earliest call was at 10 A.M. and the latest was at 9:30 P.M. German did not answer any of the calls and could not have known that it was Gontarz calling.

Searching a journalist’s telephone is an exceptional move that is generally reserved for very sensitive investigations. That the Israel Police would search a journalist’s phone just because he called an MK from a blocked number six times a day creates a new dynamic between the police and journalists that threatens the ability to keep sources confidential.

“I was sure this was some kind of serial stalker; it was a blocked number,” said German, who was surprised to hear that a journalist was questioned in the matter. “I don’t answer blocked numbers; if someone wants to reach me let them send a text message. I filed a complaint with the Knesset sergeant-at-arms two weeks ago. It’s been a while since I’ve even wondered who it was.

“If they had called me to tell me that it was Nir Gontarz I would have laughed. Give Nir my regards and tell him I regret the aggravation caused him,” German said.