Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Wednesday that ties between media figures and the government should be severed – his first public comments on the police investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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Kahlon is the head of the center-right Kulanu party and a former communications minister, a post Netanyahu now fills in addition to serving as prime minister.
“I was communications minister. I initiated reforms,” Kahlon said at a conference in Haifa, adding that the government “must disengage from the media. The ties between media people and the state should be severed. There never before was such a thing.”
Netanyahu has reportedly been caught on tape telling the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon Mozes, that he would move to rein in the free daily Israel Hayom in return for favorable coverage of Netanyahu. Israel Hayom is owned by a longtime patron of Netanyahu, U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
The second investigation involves allegations that Netanyahu and his family received valuable perks and gifts, including expensive cigars, from business leaders. “I only receive gifts at a wedding,” Kahlon said.
Kahlon, however, backed Netanyahu in the case of Elor Azaria, the soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian who stabbed a soldier in Hebron. Azaria shot Sharif as the Palestinian lay wounded on the ground.
“There are good and bad here. The bad one is the terrorist,” Kahlon said. “The good one is the soldier, Elor Azaria, who came to defend the State of Israel. I respect the court. I love the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. He needs to be pardoned here and now.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the Habayit Hayehudi to the right of Netanyahu, has remained silent on the two investigations. Before Kahlon’s comments Wednesday, associates said Kahlon and Bennett believed that the investigations were not hurting Netanyahu politically and were not at the top of the public agenda, so they would not take a position.
According to the associates, Bennett and Kahlon were concerned that an indictment against Netanyahu for receiving gifts like cigars would rally the right around the prime minister and hurt Kulanu and Habayit Hayehudi.