Analysis

Netanyahu Has Been Seeking Favorable Coverage From Media Mogul for Years

The recordings of Netanyahu negotiating favorable press coverage with the publisher of the Yedioth daily are fairly recent, but the two have been trying to negotiate such a deal for years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Avichai Mendelblit, November 2015.
Dan Balilty/AP

The earthquake hit Sunday. Haaretz revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been recorded negotiating a quid pro quo with a prominent businessman tapes that had reached the police.

Then Channel 2's Guy Peleg reported that the businessman is the publisher of the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, who because of these contacts is also being investigated on suspicion of serious crimes.

It should be noted that the tapes in the police's hands were recorded after Netanyahu became prime minister. These were prolonged contacts that included many meetings over the past few years. 

Initial details about the contacts were published by these writers in Haaretz two months ago. Someone who met with Mozes on the eve of the 2009 election campaign told the paper that Netanyahu was keen to improve relations with Mozes, hinting he could even get rival daily Israel Hayom closed if his relations with Mozes improved.

Politicians who have worked with Netanyahu say that for years he suffered from “Mozes paranoia.” “He’s convinced that the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth has a safe with files on politicians, and that with these files he activates politicians to cause his downfall,” one source said in November.

To this day, ministers who get good headlines or flattering pictures in Yedioth feel Netanyahu's wrath.

A week after the Haaretz piece came out on November 5, TheMarker's Nati Tucker shed additional light on the contacts between Netanyahu and Mozes. He detailed events that occurred several months before the 2009 election that put Netanyahu back in office.

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes
Nir Keidar

During that period Netanyahu held a key conversation with Mozes. The two enemies who had waged war since 1996 cooked up a secret deal. “He promised me that Israel Hayom wouldn’t publish a weekend edition,” Mozes told associates, referring to free daily owned by Netanyahu ally Sheldon Adelson, which was battling Yedioth for readers.

Mozes was convinced that the deal would save Yedioth Ahronoth after it had lost ground to Israel Hayom. Mozes was horrified that Israel Hayom would publish a weekend issue at the time the Yedioth Ahronoth Group's cash cow. Netanyahu, meanwhile, was girding for an election campaign and tried to prevent attacks from Yedioth, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country at the time, before it was eclipsed by Israel Hayom.

But something went wrong and a few months later the war resumed. At the end of 2009, Israel Hayom launched a weekend edition whose circulation reached the hundreds of thousands.

Yedioth retaliated with a campaign against Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak; it also backed a bill that would thwart the publication of free newspapers. One theory is that this was the tipping point that made Netanyahu push for a new election.

On the backdrop of the Netanyahu-Mozes deal in 2009, Yedioth's Nir Hefetz joined the prime minister's team. Four months after the election, Hefetz was appointed PR chief in the Prime Minister’s Office, and is currently a close associate of Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

So how was Hefetz appointed? “The request wasn’t addressed to me directly, but rather to the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth," Hefetz once said. "Netanyahu asked him to release me. I was called into the publisher’s office, and he told me that the prime minister had approached him with the request.”

The Netanyahu-Mozes affair is dubbed Case 2000 by the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office. Sources who learned about it two months ago said that on the day the news broke, everyone should "stand under a doorpost" as if an earthquake were erupting.

So now it's clear: The affair is based on evidence that will be very hard to dispute recordings in which the prime minister's voice is heard. People who spoke to Netanyahu over the weekend, after he was grilled by the police, said he was surprised by the evidence. “He didn’t expect it,” said someone who knows him well.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was already busy with the earthquake in the spring. He sat on the case for months before a voice emerged from his office over the weekend: The affair is serious from a public perspective and borderline in criminal terms. After concealing the information from the public without any justification, Mendelblit hastened to push Netanyahu's narrative.

So it’s time to end the spin that has been popular in recent days that Netanyahu is calm and sure everything will turn out fine. The second bit of drivel is that Mendelblit is a determined attorney general who conducted a thorough and swift investigation. These two descriptions, which are being aggressively sold to the public by lackeys of these two intelligent and talented men, are trickery and deception.

Alongside the Netanyahu-Mozes affair, the affair of the gifts to Netanyahu from businessmen is still pending. The police believe that tycoons financed the prime minister’s lifestyle to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels. Businessmen, notably Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, were allegedly asked to buy luxury items for Netanyahu and his wife often and over a long period of time.

Channel 10's Raviv Drucker has reported that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his American visa and even turned to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for that purpose. This is another example of quid pro quo, not of a close friendship that just happened to develop between a movie mogul and a politician at the top.