Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of the news portal Walla, on Tuesday told the court hearing in the bribery and fraud charges against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he lied about the website’s coverage in order to protect the interests of Walla controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch.
“Not everything I wrote was correct,” Yeshua said while being cross-examined by Elovitch’s lawyer, Jacques Chen, in the affair, known as Case 4000. “My claims expressed the narrative. I served Elovitch.”
Yeshua was asked about his response to the investigative report by Haaretz that had revealed the situation at Walla and his meeting with Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken at which he protested the coverage.
Chen presented a list of talking points that Yeshua had prepared for the meeting, including the claim that Walla was a center-right media outlet. In response, Yeshua said that “sometimes I was a dishrag, adopting the most convenient narrative. Was that a full and sincere response that reflected the situation? No, as when we responded to Gidi by denying everything,” he said, referring to Haaretz journalist Gidi Weitz, who was responsible for the 2015 report exposing Netanyahu’s alleged interference in Walla news coverage.
Yeshua’s talking points that included assertions about the article that it “exaggerated claims against me, against Walla and against Shaul” and “there are more articles against him than for him,” referring to Netanyahu. Yeshua also noted that Avi Berger and Gilad Erdan, who had been the communications minister and the ministry’s director general at the time, had “acted insanely against Bezeq.” Elovitch controlled Walla through the telecommunication Bezeq, in which he also held a controlling stake.
After the meeting, Yeshua recounted to the court that he told his superiors at Walla: “I relayed all the messages. Schocken apologized for some of what happened. I stressed the fact that this looked to us like an insane campaign [against Walla]. He said that that’s the way [founding editor in chief of TheMarker] Guy Rolnik did things to make an impact – you have to repeat things over and over.”
Judge Moshe Bar-Am said to Yeshua: “I can’t understand when the things you wrote to yourself are true and when they’re not. How are we to know?” Yeshua responded that what was true depended on the “situation” and that “everyone knew about the dissonance. To journalists on the outside, we were a united front and we lied; to the journalists [in Walla] and to Shaul, I was a partner. Those who read the emails will see a person who is hardworking and honest who works for his company. I could have resigned.”
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When Yeshua was asked a similar question by Chen, he answered: “There are lies and there are lies. The CEO sometimes has to flatter people, cut corners and say things he doesn’t entirely mean. I have lied to employees, [but] I have worked with businesspeople honestly.”
Asked about articles he wrote after a follow-up Haaretz report and another report by the media website the Seventh Eye calling the Walla “superficial and yellow journalism,” Yeshua said, “What Weitz wrote was correct, but it was inflated to say Walla wanted to expand into print to better serve Elovitch and the prime minister. Only that was not my motive. There was one thing that was correct, about biased coverage, but now everything that Walla does is connected to this.”
Schocken responded Tuesday on Twitter: “My conduct was 100 percent. Ilan Yeshua’s request was to prevent publication of his personal negative opinion of the Netanyahu couple. Clearly he was not talking to me about the possibility of not publishing the article. That was all I spoke about with Gidi Weitz, who answered me that this was an important part of the article. I told him, ‘Okay, consult Aluf and decide [together],’” referring to Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn.
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh told the court that her team had conducted its supplementary investigation of former Walla Editor-in-Chief Avi Alkalai on Monday and would continue questioning him on Wednesday, after which they would share the evidence collected with the defense. The prosecution said it had needed more time to question Alkalai because it involved reviewing dozens of messages between Alkalai and Yeshua.