Ex-communications Minister Says He Was Bullied to Do Netanyahu's Bidding

'It’s a mafia, a garbage gang, criminals,' Ayoub Kara said in recordings obtained by Haaretz, describing the pressure applied on him not no fire top television official allegedly allied with the prime minister

Former Communications Minister Ayoub Kara leaving the police's national investigations unit, Lahav 443 in lod, Israel, September 3, 2019.
Moti Milrod מוטי מילרוד

Former Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said that during his term he was threatened by a senior public servant that if he did not extend the tenure of a top television official allegedly allied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he would not remain in the Knesset. (For the latest election polls – click here)

Earlier Tuesday, Kara said he had filed a police complaint following the release of secret recordings of his conversations with Netanyahu.

The recordings revealed Netanyahu's intervention in media regulations despite a High Court petition ordering him to relinquish the communications portfolio while he was being investigated in two media-related criminal cases (Cases 2000 and 4000).

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Regarding the threats by the senior official, Kara said he was told to extend the tenure of Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich as chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio.

Kara, a member of Israel’s Druze community, is a longtime Knesset member for Likud and was communications minister from 2017 until this past June, when he resigned after it was revealed that he auditioned for a reality television show while he was minister.

In a recording obtained by Haaretz, Kara said that Avraham Natan, chairman of the Ariel Sharon Park Company, met with him before the merger between Channel 10 and the commercial television broadcasters Reshet. The two would discuss whether to keep at her post Shamalov-Berkovich, the only member of the Second Authority for Television and Radio who opposed the tie-up.

Natan is a former member of the Likud Central Committee, while Channel 10 has been considered a severe critic of Netanyahu.

According to Kara, during the meeting, Natan said, “Do you see me? I’m the prime minister. Don’t fire Berkovich. If you fire her, you’re finished. You’ll pay. You won’t be in the Knesset anymore.”

Natan, however, told Haaretz he never said any such thing.

In the recording, Kara says he told Natan that he “goes with the truth and the law.” As a result, he said, Netanyahu basically cut off all contact with him, and after he decided in November that Shamalov-Berkovich would leave, he became persona non grata at the prime minister’s residence.

“I had no choice, I was loyal to Netanyahu, but they convinced him that I was disloyal,” Kara said, adding that even if he had kept Shamalov-Berkovich on board, the decision would have been invalidated following a scathing report against her by the director general of the Communications Ministry, Nati Cohen.

“It’s a mafia, a garbage gang, criminals,” he said, describing the pressure on him when he was communications minister. The threats regarding Channel 10, he said, were the worst of the pressures.

At the end of 2018, during the discussions on the Reshet merger, Netanyahu was forbidden to deal in any way with issues linked to the channel, because one of the shareholders in Channel 10 was businessman Arnon Milchan, who allegedly improperly provided Netanyahu with lavish gifts.

A year earlier Kara had appointed Shamalov-Berkovich chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, the body authorized to approve or prevent the merger. Throughout the process she strove to prevent the tie-up, which was aimed at saving Channel 10. She tried to persuade employees of both sides to resist the merger and lobbied the other authority members against it. She also denied she was working on behalf of Netanyahu.

Kara had to decide whether to extend her term after her record on this issue led to sharp disagreements between her and officials in the Communications Ministry. After receiving a number of complaints about her, Cohen, the director general, wrote a report about her performance, saying her behavior did not befit a public servant.

Cohen noted angry outbreaks and her alleged verbal abuse of employees; he even criticized her efforts to scuttle the merger before the council had held a hearing on the issue. Kara understood that if he extended her term, it could cause him trouble.

In early November, Kara announced that he was appointing a new council, but the cabinet did not approve his appointments and in an exceptional move argued that the next communications minister should be allowed to make the appointments. This means that Shamalov-Berkovich and the other council members are still in their posts, even though their terms were meant to end in October.

Two days after Kara’s announcement, the council met and approved the merger between Reshet and Channel 10. Shamalov-Berkovich was the only opponent.

In recent months, after he failed to make it into the Knesset in April, Kara has been gradually telling people about the pressures he suffered in his position. Last week he told the daily Yisrael Hayom that his decision not to extend Shamalov-Berkovich’s term was one reason he was removed from the ministry.

“Someone around the prime minister didn’t like that decision, and started to slander me to the prime minister … political people who move around him,” Kara said. “There were other decisions I made at the ministry that people didn’t like. I can’t elaborate.”

Shamalov-Berkovich, for her part, said she “wouldn’t take dismissal lying down,” and even hinted that Kara’s effort would fail and he would be the one who would end up out.

On Monday, Channel 13 News released recordings of conversations between Kara and Netanyahu, from which it emerged that the prime minister sought to disband the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, which wasn’t letting Channel 20 (which supports him) broadcast news, and also asked to change the law to allow foreign control of TV channels.

Sources told Haaretz that in recent months Netanyahu associates were beginning to suspect that Kara had documentation of conversations between them in which the prime minister was heard getting involved in the communications market and giving Kara instructions. On Tuesday, Kara filed an eavesdropping complaint, and before that said that “the leaker should be hanged in the city square.”

Netanyahu’s office replied that he acted based on the instructions of the attorney general.