'Have You Gone Mad?': Netanyahu Recorded Intervening in Media Market After Being Forced to Drop Portfolio

Recordings released by Channel 13 reveal PM, who was ordered to relinquish communications portfolio after High Court petition, asked minister to abolish council that barred right-wing channel

Netanyahu and Ayoub Kara at a Likud meeting, September 8, 2017.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still involved in the communications market and instructed his successor as communications minister Ayoub Kara on how to act, even after he was forced to give up the communications portfolio, recordings released Monday evening by Channel 13 News reveal. (For the latest election polls – click here)

A response from Netanyahu’s bureau said that he acted per the instructions of the attorney general.

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In the recordings, Netanyahu can be heard telling Kara to intervene in order to allow Channel 20 to broadcast news, and instructing Kara to abolish the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council.

The recordings document consultations between Netanyahu, Kara and a senior Likud official in December 2017. In them, Netanyahu is heard discussing restrictions that barred the right-wing Channel 20 network from airing news programs.

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“Now how do we save the news until then?” the prime minister asks, referring to the time it would take to pass a law that would allow the channel to broadcast news. “It will take a few months. What do you suggest to save the news?” He goes on to ask the Likud official. “They won’t let Channel 20 air news.”

During that period, Channel 20 was entrenched in a dispute with the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, which accused the network of violating the terms of its license. In the recording, Netanyau asks: “What about Channel 10’s violations? What about Channel 2’s violations? What about those violations? How can they do such a thing?”

When Netanyahu assembled his fourth government in 2015, he kept the communications portfolio for himself. In the same year, Haaretz published an investigation into the relationship between Netanyahu and the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch. Following the report, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit forbade Netanyahu from handling matters related to Elovitch.

Afterwards, a petition was filed to the High Court of Justice against Netanyahu’s tenure as communications minister, and at the beginning of 2017, he resigned from the post and appointed Tzachi Hanegbi in his stead. About three months later, Netanyahu appointed Ayoub Kara to the position.

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Kara, who resigned in June after it came to light that he auditioned for the Israeli version of the “Survivor: VIP” reality show, claimed that he left the post because his relationship with Netanyahu affected his decision-making as communications minister. Kara was replaced by David Amsalem.

The recordings released by Channel 13 reveal that Netanyahu continued to exert influence in the communications market, even as he was being investigated in two criminal cases related to the subject (Cases 2000 and 4000).

A response from Netanyahu’s bureau says that the only restrictions that were placed on the prime minister were regarding Elovitch, with whom he did not have contact, and that he acted in accordance with the attorney general’s instructions.

“Netanyahu is allowed to handle matters that relate to the various government offices and the fact that he does not hold the communications portfolio does not negate his involvement in the realm of communications in his job as prime minister,” the statement says.

Later on in the recording, the prime minister asks Kara, “do you have a way to dissolve the [Cable and Satellite Broadcasting] Council, by the way?”

The communications minister says that he does, and refers Netanyahu to clause six of the communications law. The prime minister cuts Kara off and continues, “Why dissolve it? Let’s abolish it.”

Kara responds, “That’s the intention, to abolish or to dissolve.” As the three discuss legislation in the communications market, Netanyahu once again urges Kara to abolish the council.

Netanyahu also demanded that Kara include in the law a clause that allows foreign citizens to own Israeli television networks. “You didn’t do the foreign ownership,” Netanyahu can be heard saying to the minister regarding the proposed law.

In his attempts to aid Channel 20, Kara worked with then-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. This incensed the prime minister, who, on the recording, shouted “I read TheMarker… tell me, have you gone mad? ‘Ayoub and Shaked?’ That’s what’s going to save Channel 20?”

“Yes, but I want her to pass the bill for me quickly,” Kara said.

“Ayoub, have you gone mad? They’re slowing it down. Who’s doing this thing? Who did it? Who initiated it?” Netanyahu shouted.

“But it’s ours,” Kara answered.

The prime minister responded, “Excuse me? Shaked, one of ours?”

Kara said, “No, the bill is ours, she’s not part of it.”

Netanyahu’s bureau released the following response: “For years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been leading an open campaign to encourage and diversify the media, in a way that will adequately display and express the spectrum of opinions in the Israeli public. The prime minister’s determination to create change and break the left’s monopoly on opinion in the media has made him and his family targets for attacks meant to rein him in.”

Netanyahu later released an updated response, saying, “Thank you for showing Prime Minister Netanyahu fighting like a lion to save Channel 20, the single prized possession of the right in broadcast media against the left that tried to shut it down, just like they tried to shut down Yisrael Hayom and Channel 7.”