Netanyahu Told Israeli Media Mogul: If You Rake Me Over Coals Before Election, I’ll Deal With You

Recordings reveal that Netanyahu said that he would make sure all his acts of retaliation against Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes would be carried out according to the law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes.
Atef Safadi/AP and Moti Kimche

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that if his newspaper pulverized him in the election campaign, he would deal with him. This conversation was recorded during one of their secret meetings.

Netanyahu added that he would make sure all his acts of retaliation would be carried out according to the law. One wonders what steps a prime minister – who is also communications minister – can take within the law against a private newspaper.

Both Netanyahu and Mozes are suspicious men and have heavy scores to settle with each other. These issues surfaced in their secret meetings. When the full contents of these talks are published, they may provide the basis for a theater production – and certainly for an indictment.

Yedioth Ahronoth was bought by Mozes’ grandfather Yehuda Mozes shortly after its establishment in 1939. His father Noah inherited it and after his death, Arnon took over the family business. Until the appearance of the free newspaper owned by Netanyahu’s patron Sheldon Adelson, Yedioth Ahronoth was the dominant newspaper in Israel.

The tapes show that at times, the two men tempted each other with favors and at other times the parlay heated up, turning into mutual recriminations and even threats.

According to sources involved in the case, Mozes told Netanyahu that the attacks against him by his media outlets were because he could not sit still and watch the prime minister set out to destroy his family project.

Netanyahu retorted that if Yedioth Ahronoth pulverized him in the election campaign, he would deal with Mozes.

The significant parts of this conversation dealt with bribery: a newspaper in exchange for power. Mozes asked Netanyahu to look him in the eye and promised to do everything so that Netanyahu would remains in power for as long as he wishes. Netanyahu agreed to advance legislation that would weaken the competing Israel Hayom newspaper and restore Yedioth Ahronoth to its former dominant status.

As a gesture of goodwill, Mozes offered to immediately employ a few journalists that Netanyahu favored. During the conversation they mentioned potential names. At another point, Mozes mentioned a negative report about a political rival of the prime minister’s, apparently to illustrate the services he could provide once they made the agreement.

Mozes also said he would be glad to get rid of Yedioth Ahronoth’s veteran journalist Igal Sarna, one of those most hated by the Netanyahu family, but conceded that it was complicated.

A few months ago the Netanyahus filed a 280,000 shekel libel suit against Sarna after he implied in a Facebook post that the prime minister had been kicked out of his car by his shouting wife late at night on Highway Number 1.

Some of their meetings were tte-à-ttes and Netanyahu recorded them with the iPhone of his chief of staff, Ari Harow. When these recordings were found by the police, the Justice Ministry had to ascertain that they weren’t obtained through illegal wiretapping.

The Netanyahu-Mozes talks were held at the end of 2014 in the shadow of the elections and the Israel Hayom bill proposed by MK Eitan Cabel. The bill, according to all the assessments, was what undermined Netanyahu’s third government.

At the time, Netanyahu tried to shatter the Israeli media format and shut  Channel 10, one of whose shareholders is Arnon Milchan. The latter is allegedly one of the main figures in a graft case under investigation which involves perks such as liquors and cigars that were delivered to Netanyahu’s home.

Netanyahu wanted to secure the support of Mozes’ media group by granting the publisher and executive editor’s wish: passing Cabel’s bill, which would force Israel Hayom to be distributed for a price, rather than free of charge. But the elections had been set and legislation during an election recess is a complex procedure.

Yesterday the police questioned Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who chaired the House Committee in 2014. He and MK Ze’ev Elkin were seen as Netanyahu’s confidants who took care of the legislation. Presumably Levin was summoned to the police to confirm whether Netanyahu had spoken to him about his promise to Mozes.

Sources close to the parties say Netanyahu returned to Mozes and told him he could not complete the deal during the election campaign. He promised to take the dramatic step after being elected prime minister for the fourth time.

He probably expected Mozes to carry out all he had promised – positive, sympathetic coverage in his media outlets during the election campaign.

But Mozes didn’t believe Netanyahu, and public opinion surveys did not ensure his electoral victory. The suspicious Mozes apparently saw an opportunity and thought he could defeat Netanyahu with heavy artillery: enlisting all the journalistic powers at his disposal to bring about a change of government.

The opposite picture emerged on election night. Hundreds of Likud members gathered in the party’s Kfar Hamaccabia election headquarters and chanted against Mozes, who was branded as a defeated foe. Ardent Likud supporters marched to the media desk there and gave Yuval Karni, Yedioth Ahronoth’s political reporter, the finger, gloating over Mozes’ downfall.

Last summer, when intensive meetings were held in the attorney general’s office about the criminal implications of the recorded meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes, a group of journalists from the Keshet broadcasting corporation visited the prime minister’s office.

“One sector has been closed to competition,” Netanyahu told them, referring to Mozes. “That sector is dominated by may I say the name? Voldemort. For years this guy has controlled all the moves here. To a large extent he controlled prime ministers. I entered the post and wouldn’t play his game.”

Netanyahu spared his audience all the twists to the plot, some of which have now been exposed.