In his final day of testimony in the criminal trial against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Nir Hefetz, who had worked as Netanyahu’s media adviser, alleged that as prime minister, Netanyahu “initiated, set in motion and used” the rivalry between two major Israeli newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom.
In accordance with Netanyahu’s wishes, matters were inflamed or then stopped, Hefetz testified. “It’s all about him,” said Hefetz, who turned state’s evidence against his former boss.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, is on trial in three separate cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Two of the three cases directly relate to his alleged desire to skew media coverage about himself and his family in exchange for government concessions.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu allegedly engaged in conversations with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, to pass legislation to curb Israel Hayom’s competition in exchange for favorable coverage from Yedioth. In his testimony on Tuesday, Hefetz said there was no economic logic to Israel Hayom’s establishment.
“It was apparently started for ideological reasons. A print and advertising market this small has no room for another player, and certainly not for a player that’s distributed for free,” he said. “In the best case, this paper loses tens of millions a year,” he added. “It’s distributed for free unequivocally to destroy what Arnon Mozes sees as his life’s work. It’s practically his whole being.”
Hefetz also alleged that in 2009, Netanyahu sent him to Mozes to warn the publisher against pushing for legislation that would effectively kill Israel Hayom by making it illegal for a foreign national to control an Israeli paper. The paper, which has been largely seen as highly supportive of Netanyahu, was founded by the late American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
After wrapping up his testimony in Case 2000, Hefetz, who had been a close confidant of Netanyahu and his family told reporters that testifying against the former prime minister had been as difficult for him “as parting the Red Sea.”
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In another of the three cases, Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have provided regulatory concessions to the telecommunications firm Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage from the Walla news website, which Bezeq owned at the time.
The Netanyahu trial proceedings will not be held next week, but when the trial reconvenes, two police investigators, Nir Schwartz and Yaniv Peleg, who interrogated Hefetz, are due to take the stand to explain alleged misconduct in their interrogation of Hefetz.