Netanyahu Trial: PM Aides Vetted Senior Appointments at News Site, Key Witness Says

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court on Monday
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the first day of the evidentiary phase of his trial MondayCredit: Oren Ben Hakon
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The testimony of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, who alleges that Benjamin Netanyahu sought favorable coverage in exchange for regulatory relief for Walla's owners Bezeq, is set to continue in the third day of the prime minister's trial, just 24 hours after President Reuven Rivlin reluctantly tasked him with forming a government. 

On Tuesday, Yeshua testified that he was asked by Bezeq’s owners to erase all correspondence between them that indicated that Walla’s coverage had been tilted in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s favor. He said the owners also asked him to coordinate his story with Netanyahu’s advisers.

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The former Walla CEO told the Jerusalem District Court that while he always felt morally uncomfortable with the slanted coverage, he realized it was criminal only after that meeting with Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris.

The Elovitches also urged him to destroy his cellphone, he said, but he tricked them by first backing up its contents. They have also been charged with bribery.

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1:40 P.M. Yeshua claims he was ordered to remove article on Netanyahu’s wife to facilitate merger 

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua in Jerusalem court, yesterday.Credit: אוהד צויגנברג

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua was pushed to take down an unflattering article about Sara Netanyahu amid an impending merger between the news site’s parent company Bezeq and satellite TV provider Yes, a message presented in the courtroom revealed.

“Take it down immediately, I will kill you. This will prevent Yes’ authorization,”  Shaul Elovitch said, referring to a merger agreement between Bezeq and Yes.  

Yeshua said that he knew Netanyahu was set to decide whether Bezeq could buy Yes’ shares. “I was told that it [the deal] was approaching and therefore I need to take down the article. I understood that he [Elovitch] was very stressed,” Yeshua testified.

10:44 A.M. Yeshua: I was pressured to fire political correspondent 

Shaul and Iris Elovitch in Jerusalem court, yesterday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua told prosecutors that he was encouraged to sack the former political correspondent due to his stance on Netanyahu. 

"Shaul and Iris said that Amir Tibon [the site's former political correspondent] was writing in a critical and bad manner against the prime minister and asked me to fire him,” he said.

“Tal Shalev was a political reporter, and you can see in the correspondences with Shaul and Iris that they are not happy with her. They issued a warning,” he added. 

He also noted that he was forced to redo an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu after pressure from the prime minister’s aide Nir Hefetz and Bezeq owner Shaul Elovich.

Regarding Dov Gil-Har’s 2015 interview with Netanyahu, Yeshua said that there was “pressure not to upload the interview, to edit, to conduct an additional interview... explicit appeals to me. We reached a point where it was edited so much." 

On Walla’s celebrity site, he said the focus was on the prime minister’s son, but also that Sara Netanyahu frequently appeared there.

10:26 A.M. PM aides vetted senior appointments at news site, key witness said

Ilan Yeshua testified that "there was a norm according to which any chief editor and any senior appointment needed to be vetted [by Shaul and Iris Elovitch) and the prime minister's aides."
According to Yeshua, there was "a strong of writers and editors" that were not given the green light by Shaul and Iris Elovitch.

10:00 A.M. Yeshua says he was asked to ‘attack’ other right-wing figures

Ilan Yeshua said that he was asked to “attack” other figures from the right, as prosecutors heard his testimony that the news company of Walla accepted a bribe to give the prime minister favorable news coverage. 

“I don’t recall them asking me to favor someone from the right,” he said. “I already said that in general, concerning others from the right, they asked me to attack them.”

Prosecutor Judith Tirosh also asked Yeshua how much Shaul Elovitch cared about what was going on at Walla: “There were times when he said ‘I want us to be in the center,’ and there were times he said ‘I don’t care about journalism, but the damage it could cause Bezeq,’” said Yeshua.

9:51 A.M. Yeshua: Elovitch’s son scolded me for criticizing Netanyahu, harming Bezeq

Ilan Yeshua told prosecutors that the son of the Elovitch family reprimanded for him “taking an independent line criticizing the prime minister.”

According to the former Walla CEO, Or Elovitch slammed him for charting an independent path: “I don’t remember the exact wording but I remember the message he conveyed to me: you are acting freely, criticizing the prime minister and this will hurt the Walla group."

“I told him that from my perspective that it’s over, and we would not do it, and that it could be illegal,” Yeshua told the court. 

9:35 A.M. Yeshua feared that coordination with Netanyahu could instigate ‘police investigation’ 

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua told ex-Bezeq CEO Stella Handler that the coordination of media coverage would prompt “a police investigation of me and Shaul [Elovitch],” a recording played in the courtroom on the third day of Netanyahu’s trial revealed.

In the recording, Yeshua also expressed concerns about the situation: “It is now clear to me that it is forbidden to do such things … It is a very dangerous situation.” 

9:23 A.M. Ex-news chief warned: angering Netanyahu will cause ‘billions’ in damages

Ex-news chief Ilan Yeshua was warned by the Elovitches that “angering Netanyahu will cause Bezeq billions in damages.”

Asked how the tycoon couple justified their positive slant on Netanyahu, given Walla’s political positioning,  Yeshua cited three different angles: ideological, personal, and related to Netanyahu’s power.  

"Shaul and Iris [Elovitch] said in our conversations that this is a sensitive period, that he [Netanyahu] needs to sign now and that they do not want to upset him ... If there is hostile coverage and we don’t do what they’re asking, it could cause him not sign and would cause Bezeq billions in damages,” he told the prosecutor.

Iris Elovitch in Jerusalem court, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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