Netanyahu, the Enemy of Competition

The man who portrayed every one of his moves in the media market as having been intended to increase competition in fact acted against competition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing members of his right-wing party bloc at a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019.

“Be Kahlons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his ministers in 2011, following the success of the reform that led to lowering cellphone rates by tens of percentage points. That’s what he said, but what he did was the opposite. Instead of improving conditions for the public and hurting those of the tycoon, he did the opposite. Instead of confronting the wealthy man, he concocted a bribery deal with him. The man who portrayed every one of his moves in the media market as having been intended to increase competition in fact acted against competition.

The indictment, especially the charge of bribery in the Bezeq-Walla case (Case 4000), exposes grave misconduct on Netanyahu’s part. According to the charge, the prime minister instructed Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general and current state witness, to bring about the approval of a Bezeq-Yes deal that did Shaul Elovitch considerable benefit. It also says in the charge sheet that Netanyahu instructed Filber to “moderate the prices’ reduction as part of the wholesale market reforms” and that “the prices Bezeq will be able to charge for access to its infrastructure as part of the wholesale market reform will be higher than those previously set in the Communications Ministry, in a way that would benefit the Bezeq group.”

When Netanyahu asked his ministers to be Kahlons, Gilad Erdan accepted the recommendation. He acted to advance competition in the landline phone system and demanded that Bezeq open its infrastructure to competition as a condition for receiving other benefits. Erdan tried to be Kahlon. But the moment Netanyahu had a chance to move Erdan from his post and appoint him public security minister over Gideon Saar, he did so – and refused to complete the reform.

Former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ofer Vaknin and Nir Keidar

But Netanyahu didn’t settle for removing Erdan; he also fired the Communication Minister director general Avi Berger and appointed his crony Filber. From here on Netanyahu started acting resolutely to advance Elovitch’s affairs in exchange for consistently favorable coverage in Elovitch’s Walla news website. Netanyahu abandoned the public interest and acted to harm the consumers in favor of benefiting himself and his family.

Kahlon saved the public billions of shekels, while Netanyahu caused the public financial damage, seriously harmed the civil service, freedom of the press and competition. Kahlon was harshly criticized, justly, for going back on his 2015 election-eve pledge to act against the gas monopoly, claiming he was prevented from doing so by a conflict of interests due to his friendship with Kobi Maimon, a major player in the natural gas industry. In contrast, Netanyahu concealed his ties with Elovitch and his relationship with him and didn’t exclude himself from dealing with his affairs – until Haaretz exposed it, after which Mendelblit was forced to forbid him from dealing with Bezeq as communications minister.

Netanyahu is seen as being cautious and paranoid in many areas, until it comes to dealing with the media. In the Bezeq story he threw caution to the wind, sold out all his economic principles and trampled every public interest in order to take over a not very important news site. The criminal issues will be aired in court, but the has long cast a shadow on his judgment and his uninhibited brutality in getting Walla to do his bidding.