In his taped discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes seemingly hinted he would be willing to help the premier by tarnishing the image of his political rivals, including Naftali Bennett, Haaretz has learned.
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These Mozes-Netanyahu discussions are at the center of the so-called “Case 2000” police inquiry into their alleged collusion to weaken distribution of the pro-Netanyahu free newspaper Israel Hayom or shut it down. In return, Yedioth Ahronoth would slant its political coverage in favor of Netanyahu to help him retain power.
In one conversation, Netanyahu told Mozes he wanted to keep Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party as small as possible after the next election. He complained that Mozes was protecting Bennett and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon by “wrapping them in cotton wool.”
Mozes apparently got the implied message and, in a subsequent meeting, told Netanyahu the Bennett issue had been taken care of – namely, that the Habayit Hayehudi leader had lost the defensive wall Netanyahu thought Mozes was giving him.
In an apparent gesture of goodwill, in one of their following meetings Mozes referred to a negative story about Bennett in one of his media outlets.
According to all indications, Mozes was referring to the story published by the Ynet website on December 7, 2014 – a day before the 19th Knesset dispersed. Ynet’s main headline that day said Bennett, then economy minister, had undertaken to build 700 day-care centers for toddlers, while in reality only 39 were built. Bennett was furious and posted a harsh response on Facebook.
“Ynet are firing a bullet of falsehood at my head right now,” he wrote. “In the coming period, expect a media offensive on Habayit Hayehudi in general, and on me in particular.”
Until then, Bennett was one of the figures who seemed to receive consistently favorable coverage in the Yedioth Ahronoth group. The newspaper’s rival, Israel Hayom, even called him a soldier of Mozes, due to Habayit Hayehudi’s support for the bill against the free newspaper that Netanyahu and Mozes discussed advancing.
“Yedioth Ahronoth is advancing Bennett and flattering him in its headlines. Bennett, for his part, is pushing the bill intended to shut Israel Hayom down,” Israel Hayom complained in March 2014.
Bennett’s faction leader at the time, Ayelet Shaked, may have signed the proposal against Israel Hayom, but the two were absent from the vote in which it passed its preliminary Knesset reading – an event seen as the main reason for Netanyahu’s decision to hold an early general election in 2015.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Mozes presented similar versions about their collusion in the inquiry. According to sources close to the parties, both men claimed they were cheating each other and didn’t intend to keep the far-reaching promises they had made in their talks. This version arguably contradicts the fact that the two met several times for many hours, discussed the smallest details of the deal and expressed their mutual desire to obtain the promised benefit from the other.
Mozes was desperate for the Israel Hayom bill to pass. Once enacted, it could have reinstated his group’s predominance in the media market. For this, the publisher was seemingly ready to go to almost any lengths. He promised Netanyahu he would act to keep him as prime minister as long as he wanted, and offered to employ journalists of Netanyahu’s choosing.
The investigation is expected to continue for a long time, with Netanyahu and Mozes expected to be questioned several more times. Police also plan to interview a number of individuals overseas, including Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson and tycoons Netanyahu allegedly tried to persuade to purchase part of Yedioth Ahronoth.
The investigation into “Case 1000,” centering on the suspicion that Netanyahu received hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of benefits from tycoons, will also continue for many more weeks.