Netanyahu Trial: News Site ex-CEO Denies His Staff Was Biased Against PM

During his cross-examination, Ilan Yeshua faced allegations that requests to alter Walla's coverage were an effort to redress such bias

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua under cross-examination in Jerusaelem District Court Monday.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua under cross-examination in Jerusaelem District Court Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla news website, insisted that the news staff at his website was not biased against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he was cross-examined on Monday in the prime minister's corruption trial.  

Netanyahu is accused in the case of seeking favorable coverage from Walla in exchange for government regulatory concessions to Walla's parent company at the time, Bezeq telecommunications. In his direct testimony, Yeshua testified that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, were involved in detailed aspects of the website's coverage.

His co-defendants in the case are Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder at the time of Bezeq telecommunications, which owned Walla, and Elovitch's wife, Iris.

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Yeshua was responding on Monday in Jerusalem District Court to the contention by Iris Elovitch's lawyer, Michal Rosen-Ozer, that the Walla news operation was deliberately negative towards the prime minister and that Iris Elovitch's requests for coverage of Netanyahu were simply an effort to balance the bias of the website's editors. Yeshua said in response that the editors' opposition to the requests regarding the coverage were "not reasonable."

"I've presented you with several examples," Rosen-Ozer told Yeshua, that show that Walla's news staff "was trying to dictate an agenda that was hostile to the prime minister."

"The staff was subject to ongoing abuse, a staff that was trying to breathe amid a stream of pressure," Yeshua replied. "In all of your examples, you see the pressure."

Referring to former Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, the former Walla executive said it was not a "catastrophe" in an article with favorable comments from the mayor about Netanyahu to also report criticism of Netanyahu. "This is a democracy. There's criticism."

Yeshua is the first witness in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The case involving Walla is one of three separate corruption cases against the prime minister. He is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing. 

In his direct testimony, Yeshua testified that the website “belonged completely” to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his circle, Yeshua claimed. “The norm was that we weren’t actually the site’s editors.” 

In addition to the Walla case, which police dubbed Case 4000, Netanyahu is facing charges in Case 1000 over allegations that he improperly received generous gifts from wealthy businessmen over an extended period, and Case 2000, in which it is alleged that he negotiated with the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon Mozes, to provide legislative concessions to the newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage. 

Netanayhu said he never intended to consummate any such deal. Mozes also denies any wrongdoing. 

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