Israeli Lawmaker Grilled in Bribery Case Involving Netanyahu and Media Tycoon

Eitan Cabel, who sponsored a bill targeting the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, is suspected of breach of trust and obstruction of justice

Netanyahu and Eitan Cabel at the Knesset, 2011.
Olivier Fitoussi

A prominent opposition member of Knesset was interrogated by police on Thursday as a potential suspect in a case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and media tycoon Arnon Mozes.

Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) was questioned for two hours by the anti-fraud unit on suspicion of breach of trust and obstruction of justice. Mozes was also questioned by police at the same time.

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"I said what I had to say, and just as I told the truth [before] I told the truth today," Cabel said following the interrogation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes.
AP, Moti Kimche

The investigation, dubbed Case 2000, began after police obtained tapes of conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth daily. The recordings allegedly involve discussions of Yedioth providing positive new coverage for Netanyahu in exchange for favorable government policies.

Cabel was the sponsor of the so-called "Israel Hayom bill," which would have made it illegal to widely distribute a full-size newspaper free of charge.

Owned by Sheldon Adelson and considerd pro-Netanyahu, Israel Hayom is the chief competitor of Yedioth.

While it didn't explicitly mention any paper by name, only Israel Hayom fit its requirements. If the bill had passed, Israel Hayom would be forced to charge its readers at least half the price of its cheapest competitor.

In the ensuing political struggle over the bill, Israel Hayom and Netanyahu both accused Mozes of orchestrating the bill through Knesset members who, they alleged, were receiving preferential treatment from Yedioth Ahronoth and its popular Ynet website, in exchange for helping him reestablish his predominance in Israeli media through the bill.

In 2014, the bill helped precipitate the collapse of the government. The law for the advancement and protection of written journalism in Israel was widely known as the Israel Hayom bill, and was clearly designed to limit Adelson's influence.

MK Cabel had spoken several times to Yedioth Aharonot publisher Mozes, with the former avidly promoting the bill. Haaretz has learned that Cabel had even received notes and corrections to the bill from Mozes- who had a personal interest in seeing it being turned into a law.

In November 2014 the Knesset approved the bill in a preliminary reading, with support from elements from the Netanyahu coalition. At the end of the vote, the prime minister was heard muttering: "A shame to the Knesset." The fact that his coalition partners had turned their backs to him on the matter made him announce early elections.

Only a few people in the know were aware then that close to the time of the vote, meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes took place (some were documented) in which the two allegedly discussed the bribery deal, with Mozes promising that the better coverage he would give him better coverage so that he can remain the premier "as long as he wants."

In the conversations between the two, Cabel's name came up as well. According to a report by Guy Peleg of the Israel Television News Company, Mozes told Netanyahu that "we need a different law that would bypass the problem we need Eytan Cabel to come, and someone from your team in the Knesset." Netanyahu allegedly answered: "Eytan needs to say: 'I want to reach a compromise.' Maybe we'll convince him to give up the law."

MK Cabel said then that he "feels very difficult especially because I am not a side in this stinky story." Cabel was referring to a report on the Mako website that said that the amount of times he was mentioned in Yedioth Aharonot rose by 70% after the bill was published. Cabel said at the time: "I presume that because I led the law, I served his interests but can anybody say I took something from Noni Mozes in return?"

Cabel testified twice to police in Case 2000, and a law enforcement official said recently that in the past months a development in the investigation has emerged that points at the connection between Mozes and Cabel concerning the Yisrael Hayom bill. If Cabel had indeed worked to serve the interests of Mozes and collaborated with him and received positive coverage at this same time, this would be a grave case. However, their give-and-take relations are hard to prove without proof such as recordings of conversations between them.