Netanyahu Refuses to Sign Conflict of Interest Agreement as Acting Communications Minister

Attorney General insists PM refrain from matters dealing with Israel's largest communications company, Bezeq, whose owner also runs Walla, a popular news site which provides Netanyahu with favorable coverage.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Mark Israel Salem

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also communications minister, not to deal with matters involving Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch, yet Netanyahu is balking at the directive.

Mendelblit insists that Netanyahu sign a conflict of interest arrangement that would ban him, as communications minister, from dealing with Elovitch’s affairs, yet Netanyahu objects to the demand and has not signed the arrangement.

If Netanyahu ultimately signs the document, he may not be able to continue serving as communications minister.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Justice Ministry refused to give details of the arrangement and the nature of the possible conflicts of interests.

Haaretz reporter Gidi Weitz reported in March that the Justice Ministry issued a legal opinion stating that Netanyahu has a conflict of interests regarding Elovitch’s affairs.

The opinion was drafted by Deputy Attorney General Dina Silber, who is in charge of instructing ministries and giving them legal opinions. TheMarker has learned that Mendelblit adopted Silber’s opinion.

Weitz’s previous expose had shown how the Elovitch-owned internet site Walla provides Netanyahu and his wife Sara with slanted, favorable coverage.

Bezeq is Israel’s largest communications company. Also, since Bezek is active in almost all communication areas – linear, cellular, internet, and multi-channel television, among others – every decision in the communications field directly affects it.

The Communications Ministry is set to make decisions that have critical repercussions on Bezeq’s future. The company is classified as a monopoly in the linear telephone and internet infrastructure markets. The ministry will soon decide on expanding competition in the field by compelling Bezek to sell its telephone services to its competitors.

The ministry is also to decide on adding the Hot cable TV company to the broadband reform.

As communications minister, Netanyahu was warned by former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein not to deal with communications issues handled by the law firm E. S. Shimron, I. Molho, Persky & Co., as it represents Netanyahu as well. However, the firm’s client list has not been published, so it is impossible to know if Netanyahu is actually involved in a conflict of interests.