Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed during his investigation in Case 2000 that he held the secret conversations with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, out of a fear that Mozes would smear his children publicly to the point that they might commit suicide.
“I was buying time with Noni Mozes so he would not put a bullet in the heads of my children,” said Netanyahu in response to the suspicion that between 2009 and 2014, he conducted three rounds of secret negotiations for a bribery deal with Mozes.
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The two discussed the deal in the talks between them: Netanyahu would act to weaken Yedioth’s rival paper Israel Hayom, founded by Netanyahu’s then-key supporter Sheldon Adelson, for example through legislation – and Mozes for his part would “turn the ship” and tilt the coverage of his media empire in Netanyahu’s favor. The talks between them were recorded surreptitiously at Netanyahu’s instruction.
In his first questioning in the affair, and at a stage where Netanyahu did not know that the police investigators had obtained the recordings, Netanyahu denied having recorded the conversations with Mozes. Later he claimed he took this step to preserve them for “the day of judgment.”
Netanyahu claimed that in the conversations he sounded as if he was willing to support the law that would greatly weaken Mozes’ competitor, but he was just joking with Mozes and never intended what he said – just as Mozes never believed him.
“A tactical discussion between wolves,” is how Netanyahu described the secret dialogue. The possibility that Mozes would harm his children and wife was mentioned in a casual and marginal fashion during the first questioning. But in the following investigations in the case, Netanyahu’s fear that his children would commit suicide as a result of the artillery Mozes would aim at them, took a central role in the explanation he provided to explain the long talks with Mozes.
This was his explanation for the central point that bothered the investigators: If you didn’t believe Mozes’ word, then why did you meet with him so many times and even took practical steps to carry out the deal with him? “I was trying to prevent the situation in which he did terrible things to my children,” said Netanyahu. “Don’t destroy my children. I don’t want to get up one morning like you got up.”
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He was referring to the suicide of the commander of the investigators facing him in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the former commander of the police’s national fraud unit Ephraim Bracha, who shot and killed himself after suffering through a demonization campaign by the followers of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto – after Bracha incriminated the rabbi and taped him offering Bracha a $200,000 bribe.
“It could reach false incrimination or public shaming,” said Netanyahu. “You know the power of public shaming. With you it was an older man and here you are taking a wounded young soul, and who knows where it will end up. Who knows what is happening with your family. With your children. It’s Noni Mozes. … You had an investigator who had it done to him, a serious adult. He couldn’t stand up to it for a minute. So I’m allowed to think about my children.”
Netanyahu also told the investigators: “Over the years, I talked to him in order to lower the flames and said that I needed it not because of his media but because of a different reason: As far as I was concerned the only thing that truly interested me was what he would do to my children. He would call occasionally ... before the meetings, and sort of ask a question about my children. ... From time to time he would run stories.”
During the later questioning, Netanyahu claimed that Mozes even hinted in a conversation between the two that he would harm his children. Mozes vehemently denied during his questioning that he had ever threatened anyone.
Mozes “told me in one of the conversations between us: ‘I’m the third generation in journalism. I live for it, this paper [Israel Hayom] endangers everything that is dear to me, everything I have. I can’t hurt Sheldon Adelson. He is invulnerable as far as I’m concerned. I can hurt you and everything that is dear to you, everything that is dear to you.’”
“Did you feel threatened?” asked the former commander of the national fraud squad, police Brig. Gen. Koresh Bar Nur. “Come on, what a question,” responded Netanyahu when he was asked why he didn’t go to the police and complain against Mozes. Netanyahu said it would be his word against Mozes’: “Will anyone believe me?” he said. “This threat was enough and I understood it.”
Kept in touch
To make it clear why in spite of his claims about direct threats from Mozes, Netanyahu still preferred not to complain to the police but instead continued to remain in contact with him – including 15 long meetings mostly before the election campaign, Netanyahu told about the excellent advice he received in the past from businessman Yaakov Nimrodi, who was the owner of the Maariv newspaper and who, along with his son Ofer, conducted a long and bitter fight with Mozes.
The elder Nimrodi was convicted of harassing the main witnesses in a trial against his son Ofer, who managed Maariv in practice. Ofer Nimrodi had been convicted earlier of illegal eavesdropping against the top executives of Yedioth Ahronoth, including Mozes, and was later convicted of obstructing justice, fraud and corporate breach of trust, harassing a witness and forging corporate documents, too. He served time in prison.
“He talked to me,” Netanyahu said of his conversation with the elder Nimrodi. “And he told me, ‘listen, you don’t know who this man is, you don’t know what he is capable of. He destroyed me, he put my son in prison.’ I told him: Put your son in jail? To the best of my knowledge it was something else, yes? [and he answered]: ‘Put my son in jail, almost put me in jail. You don’t know what it is. He has, he can buy witnesses, he has dealings in the prosecutor’s office, in the police.’ So I said: What do you do with a thing like this?” Netanyahu said Nimrodi told him: “Don’t be right, be smart. Keep him [on a low flame], keep in touch with him. You remember that line from ‘The Godfather’? ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’”
Netanyahu gave the investigators an analogy to the conversations he held with Mozes – that Israel conducts a regular dialogue with Hamas and even with Hezbollah. “Though it’s a thousand times different, we are in contact with two groups at the moment, and don’t say that I’m comparing Noni to Hamas or Hezbollah, but what do you think, that we don’t keep in contact [with them]? They are enemies. It’s a battle!! It is impossible to reach an agreement with them, Not us with them and not them with us, and everyone knows it, but we control the height of the flames,” Netanyahu told the investigators.
The investigators found it difficult to accept Netanyahu’s explanation that he conducted a dialogue with Mozes that was entirely based on lies, and whose sole goal was to protect his family members. They presented him with evidence and testimony that showed how determined he was to reach a détente with the head of the media superpower.
Among the things that the investigators told Netanyahu was that Adelson, in his testimony, told about two occasions on which Netanyahu had tried to convince him to reduce the distribution of Israel Hayom, or to prevent publishing a weekend edition of the newspaper just so he could reach an agreement with Mozes.
“It could be he made a mistake,” said Netanyahu in repudiating Adelson’s version. “He is not a young man and it could be he was mistaken.
“He extorted the entire political system,” Netanyahu said of his bitter rival Mozes. “He didn’t extort Tzipi Livni? He didn’t extort Zehava Galon?” When he was questioned, Mozes claimed that he had never extorted anyone, and had never made improper use of the power of the media outlets he owned.
Netanyahu made it clear to the police investigators why he decided before his election victory in 2015 to attack Mozes publicly: “This man lives in the darkness, he is scared to death of exposure and all his bullying and domination stems from his ability to act in the darkness, and then I decided to expose him, and I came out against him. … I know that at the moment that I do it, his ability to control people, too, everyone … everyone will move aside, including these servants of his, everyone moves aside, everyone!”
The indictment filed against Netanyahu and Mozes notes that from the very first round of negotiations between the two, Netanyahu had a deep fear of how his family would be covered by Mozes’ media. The indictment states that in late 2008 and “in advance of the election campaign, Netanyahu and Mozes met in secret and reached an understanding, according to which Mozes would influence the manner in which Netanyahu was covered in the media outlets of the Yedioth Ahronoth Group, and in return Netanyahu would act to convince Adelson to block the production of a weekend edition of Israel Hayom. As a result, the defendant Netanyahu approached Adelson and asked him to postpone the production of the weekend edition. The weekend edition was published for the first time after about a year, in November 2009.”
Netanyahu was afraid that publication of Israel Hayom’s weekend edition would spark damaging stories against him and his family in the media outlets of the Yedioth Ahronoth Group. The indictment further states: “Therefore, in advance of the production of the edition and afterward, in the months October and December 2009, the defendant Netanyahu approached businessman [Arnon] Milchan and the head of the spokesman’s office in the Prime Minister’s Office at the time, [Nir] Hefetz, who worked in the past at Yedioth Ahronoth, and asked to bring about understandings between Adelson and the defendant Mozes. This effort did not bear fruit.”