Netanyahu Taps Ally to Replace Him as Communications Minister Amid Corruption Probes

The prime minister has been urged to step back from the Communications Ministry during the graft investigations; Tzachi Hanegbi will take over for at least three months.

Tzachi Hanegbi and Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting of Likud party MKs, January 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he has decided to tap Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi as acting communications minister for three months, after which Netanyahu would decide whether to make the appointment permanent.

Netanyahu, who was speaking to reporters on his flight back from the United States, is also communications minister and foreign minister, but petitions have been filed asking that he not serve as communications chief during the corruption probes against him.

A source close to Netanyahu told Haaretz that the prime minister trusts Hangebi, a close ally, to advance reforms in the industry and not succumb to media-industry lobbying.

In recent days, sources said Hanegbi or Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev might be appointed to the communications ministry. Regev said that if that happened, she would not relinquish her current portfolio, which she has held since the government formed two years ago.

Two police investigations are underway against Netanyahu one over whether he improperly accepted expensive gifts from businesspeople, and one over whether he agreed to limit the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom in return for better coverage from rival Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu allegedly received expensive cigars and champagne from Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Last month the High Court gave Netanyahu three weeks to explain why he did not resign or recuse himself from the Communications Ministry during the investigations.

At the beginning of next week the state is due to submit to the High Court its reply to a petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and opposition leader Isaac Herzog regarding Netanyahu and the Communications Ministry. Justice Ministry officials have said it is difficult to defend Netanyahu’s presence at the Communications Ministry for the time being, so a transfer of the portfolio was advisable.

Several months ago Netanyahu already authorized Hanegbi to make decisions concerning telecommunications company Bezeq after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled that Netanyahu’s relationship with Bezeq’s main shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, disqualified him.