Amid Tape Scandal, Herzog Calls for Netanyahu’s Ouster From Communications Ministry

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Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog, December 2016.
Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog, December 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Monday called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be ousted as communications minister, arguing that reports of alleged conversations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes prove he has a direct interest in the Israel Hayom newspaper.

In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Herzog said that if Netanyahu is not removed from the ministry within 48 hours, his party, Zionist Union, would petition the High Court of Justice to demand the action.

Channel 2 News reported Sunday that the police have a taped recording between Mozes and Netanyahu, in which the premier offers to take steps to weaken Israel Hayom – the country’s highest-circulation daily and widely considered to be the prime minister’s “mouthpiece” – in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth.

Herzog also demanded that State Comptroller Joseph Shapira investigate the link between Netanyahu and Israel Hayom. “The reports on the conversations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Mozes confirm the claims that the editorial offices of Israel Hayom were and are run by Benjamin Netanyahu,” Herzog said. “That’s what we said during the election, and we were rebuffed with the argument that no link between them was proven. So now it’s been proven and the connection should be thoroughly uncovered.”

On the eve of the last election in 2015, Likud campaign chairman Shlomo Filber (now director general of the Communications Ministry) submitted an affidavit to the Central Elections Committee, stating that Netanyahu had no connection to Israel Hayom.

The affidavit came in response to a petition filed with the CEC demanding that it stop Israel Hayom from publishing election propaganda on behalf of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s affidavit stated: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has not and never had any connection or control or an organizational relationship of any kind with Israel Hayom or with its editorial offices or with the journalists who write for it, or any influence on the paper’s editorial judgment or its content, or on its establishment, founding or ongoing management.”

CEC chairman Justice Salim Joubran allowed the continued publication of Israel Hayom after examining the petition and Likud’s response.

In a letter to the state comptroller yesterday, MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) cast doubt on the reliability of the affidavit, and demanded that Shapira investigate the link between the premier and the paper. The new allegations raised questions about the violation of election laws by the prime minister and his Likud party, Hasson stated.

“You don’t have to have a legal education to come to the conclusion that the affidavit was a false one,” Hasson wrote. “One doesn’t have to have an overactive imagination to guess that if the prime minister sees himself as the de-facto owner of Israel Hayom, then Israel Hayom sees the prime minister as its de-facto owner.”

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon called on Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to release the Netanyahu-Mozes tapes. “Despite the accepted practice not to release evidence during an investigation, and with all due respect for the importance of this practice, the investigation of the prime minister has created conditions that require a comprehensive exposé of the recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes,” she said.

Galon added that releasing the recordings would provide answers to pointed questions about the links between Netanyahu and the two newspapers. “The worst thing of all is that the public is getting its coverage about the recordings and their content from the same two media outlets that are clearly interested parties in the investigation. The public is essentially being held hostage by Sheldon Adelson and Noni Mozes,” she said, using the latter’s nickname.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday he doesn’t believe the investigation will lead to an indictment.

“We are jumping the gun – and from what I see, I suggest not being hasty,” Lieberman told a meeting of his Yisrael Beiteinu party. “I don’t get the impression from the facts in the media that this requires an indictment, but I’m not familiar with the law.”

Other than Lieberman, none of the other governing coalition party leaders made any statements on the matter yesterday.