Analysis

Netanyahu Case Presents Rare Opportunity to Break Hold of Media Boss Mozes

Police investigation of Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher, titled Case 2000, gives Israelis a chance to put an end to deals between the press and politicians

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

“The State of Israel is lucky that Sheldon Adelson decided to start Israel Hayom. No one understands how lucky. If there hadn’t been Israel Hayom, Noni Mozes would have been able to continue controlling things through his gang. He has a gang of people – Knesset members, senior officials – that does what he wants. It’s scary.”

The person who said that prefers for obvious reasons to remain anonymous, but he is certainly someone in the know about how things operate in Israel and the power that Mozes’ Yedioth Ahronoth publishing group wields. He is not alone in expressing this view, either.

Israel Hayom, the giveaway daily that Adelson began publishing a decade ago, is regarded as a pro-Netanyahu house organ. But it has also broken the once-unchallenged power of Yedioth, by far Israel’s biggest paid-for daily, and its allied media.

Anyone who has worked for the Yedioth group knows how it was used to further the interests of Mozes and his associates. Those who won his favor enjoyed favorable coverage. Those who defied him got onto a blacklist and were attacked relentlessly. Former state prosecutor Moshe Lidor and journalist Raviv Drucker are two examples.

Until the 1990s, Mozes’ power was limited. Maariv, whose owners, the Nimrodi family, used it for the same purposes, was a real competitor, while Haaretz had an impact as well. But Maariv faded from the scene and as Yedioth grew stronger, so did Mozes’ interference in the newsroom.

Not just politicians and government officials but other publishers and journalists also learned to tread carefully on the issue of Mozes’ immense media power. At its peak, it extended not just to print media and the internet, but to the cable operator Hot and the Channel 2 television broadcaster Reshet.

Moses had a paralyzing effect on politicians, public officials and other well-known figures. The media conglomerate was critical to the stalling of reforms and the ignoring of corruption because of Mozes’ bear hug. From time to time, small revelations gave the public brief glimpses of this power behind the scenes, but for the most part it remained hidden.

Mordechai Gilat, a former Yediot investigative reporter who later worked for Israel Hayom, recalls the struggles he engaged in with Mozes over the Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon affairs, two politicians he said were close to the newspaper publisher. Nir Bachar, a former editor of the newspaper’s 7 Days weekend magazine, said his investigations into Israel’s tycoons met resistance from Mozes and his editor in chief Rafi Ginat.

Mozes’ relations with Benjamin Netanyahu were particularly poisonous, although the reasons for this have never been entirely clear. Over the years, go-betweens sought to improve them, but the two distrusted each other too much.

Israel Hayom founded to counter Yedioth's hostile coverage

Faced with persistent hostility from Yedioth, Netanyahu knew he needed something to counter Mozes. And that is where Adelson and Israel Hayom came in – as a counterweight. The project involved huge amounts of money to cover the cost of the money-losing newspaper, violations of journalistic ethics and distortions of realty – not unlike Yedioth often engaged in, albeit with the opposite agenda.

Even after a decade, Israel Hayom has never succeeded in influencing the public. But it hurt Mozes financially by undercutting Yedioth’s circulation and advertising rates at a time when newspaper advertising was in a funk to begin with. Yedioth began losing money.

Mozes repeatedly appealed to Netanyahu to make a deal. He wouldn’t be able to offer the support of Yedioth’s top commentators, like Nahum Barnea and Sima Kadmon, but he could promise the newspaper’s editor in chief.

Case 2000, which centers on recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes about a deal to trade favorable coverage from Yedioth in exchange for a law that would have hurt Israel Hayom commercially, gives a tantalizing peak into the relations between politicians and media magnates. The case has its criminal elements, but it has its political side as well.

Case 2000 isn’t comfortable for anyone in power, and there are a lot of powerful people who would like to bury it. It threatens to expose similar dealings from the past and embarrass leading public figures. They would prefer the police and prosecutors to focus on the other investigations swirling around the prime minister.

Certainly one arena is where the tradeoffs between the press and politicians have been over legislation that would have struck a blow to Israel Hayom’s freebie business model. When Eitan Cabel and Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) introduced a version of the law in 2013, they claimed they were doing it in the public’s interest and to help the media being hurt by Adelson. But they were serving Mozes’ interests as well.

Case 2000 provides a unique opportunity to put an end to this business. If those allegedly involved in it are brought to justice, it will yield two positive outcomes: Clear criteria for relations between politicians and the media, and a legal precedent that should have always been self-evident but apparently wasn’t, namely that positive (or negative) media coverage has an economic value, and a tradeoff for it should be regarded as bribery.

The alternative, if the case dissolves, is to bring back the bad old days when Mozes truly ruled the roost.