Netanyahu Trial: PM 'Is Going Out of His Way to Help. We Must Repay Him,' News Site Owner Told Key Witness

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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File photo: Netnayahu in court.
File photo: Netnayahu in court.Credit: Reuven Castro
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The fifth day of testimony of former Walla news website CEO Ilan Yeshua in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began Tuesday with additional evidence that Yeshua was being pressured to slant the website's coverage in favor of the prime minister.

Walla was a subsidiary at the time of Bezeq telecommunications, and Bezeq was seeking government concessions from Netanyahu, who in addition to being prime minister was communications minister. 

LISTEN: Inside Walla - What was it like being a journalist for “Netanyahu’s website”

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In addition to Netanyahu, the defendants in the case include Bezeq's controlling shareholder at the time, Shaul Elovitch, and his wife, Iris, amid allegations that the favorable coverage was being given in exchange for government regulatory concessions to Bezeq. As communications minister at the time, Netanyahu's consent was required for permission to merge Bezeq's operations with those of the Yes satellite television service provider.

Live updates

12:30 P.M. Trial adjourns for the day

Tuesday's proceedings in the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have concluded for the day. Prosecutor Judith Tirosh informed the three-judge panel that she will require three more days next week to finish her direct questioning of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, whose testimony is taking more time than initially anticipated.

11:02 A.M. Yeshua: You understand the huge importance of keeping the Netanyahus satisfied

The prosecutor asked Ilan Yeshua about a message from Shaul Elovitch stating: "It's important to keep them satisfied, particularly at the current time."

"It refers to the prime minister and his wife," Yeshua told the court. "There were regulatory proceedings to get through, that’s in general. There was also a High Court of Justice hearing that was unrelated to Walla. You understand the huge importance of keeping them satisfied, certainly when there's a High Court hearing."

10:25 A.M. Yeshua: 'Yair gets up in the morning and monitors everything and incites Sara'

The prosecution presented a message purportedly forwarded by Elovitch to Yeshua from Zeev Rubinstein, who was close to the Netanyahu family and who was complaining that Walla only provided favorable coverage when associates of Netanyahu demanded it. Referring to Netanyahu's younger son, Rubinstein wrote: "Yair and I don't have the strength to just be on this! I have other roles in life other than just watching over Walla!" he wrote. "Make the Walla web[site] positive and that's it!"

And in apparent reference to the failure of the website to satisfy the prime minister's wife, Sara, with positive coverage, Rubinstein wrote to Elovitch: "She's angry, grumbling. [You] have to do something, Shaul. Every story or item has to go via Ilan [Yeshua]. You have to moderate [the coverage].

When the prosecutor asked Yeshua on the stand what he was told about the involvement of Sara and Yair Netanyahu in efforts to influence Walla's news coverage, he said: "Shaul and Iris [Elovitch] give me the message all the time that son Yair gets up in the morning and monitors everything and incites Sara …."

9:44 A.M. Elovitch to Yeshua: Give Sara Netanyahu everything you can; the prime minister is killing himself for me

The prosecutor presented Yeshua correspondence in which Shaul Elovitch wrote: "Give the lady everything you can. He is killing himself for me."

From the stand, Yeshua said 'the lady' was the prime minister's wife, Sara, and 'he' was the prime minister, who was helping Elovitch deal with government regulatory matters. 

09:00 A.M. 'Netanyahu is going out of his way to help. We must repay him'

At the beginning of the hearing Tuesday, the prosecution presented messages purportedly sent from Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder at the time of Bezeq, which owned Walla, to Yeshua. "The big guy [Netanyahu] pleasantly surprises me every day with the most important things. We need to find a way to repay him," the message read. "That the big guy goes out of his way to help, and we can't help him because of this group of losers."

Yeshua responded to Elovitch that they "can build a new system." Elovitch wrote back reiterating that Netanyahu must be ccompensed for his help, to which Yeshua responded, "I understand and am committed to that...  At the end of the day, we are delivering the goods, but there's room for improvement."

In Monday's proceedings, prosecutor Judith Tirosh presented correspondence from February 2015, purportedly from Shaul Elovitch to Yeshua, in which Elovitch wrote, "Every day I have problems with 'the big man' on my matter," a term that Yeshua had previously said was a code name for the prime minister.

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