Analysis

Unable to Charm the Media, Netanyahu Sought to Control It

Based on what was published on Sunday regarding Case 4000, it seems that this is the most serious case yet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Likud Party gathering marking the first day of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, in Ramat Gan, Israel December 2, 2018.
REUTERS/Corinna Kern

Throughout his years as a politician, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would frequently complain about the media’s negative attitude toward him. In 1999, shortly before he lost the prime minister’s seat, he gave the speech where he repeated again and again, “They’re afraid” – referring to the media.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Netanyahu’s claims against the media have some merit, but instead of working to improve his public image in the media via legitimate means, it seems that over the years he decided that in order to fortify his political standing, he would need to change the entire media market in Israel.

As has been exposed in the past, during the previous decade Netanyahu worked to bring in Arnon Milchan and Ronald Lauder as investors in Channel 10; later, U.S. gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson arrived in Israel and invested massive sums in launching the free newspaper Israel Hayom, which is considered Netanyahu’s personal mouthpiece. Along the way, Israel Hayom delivered a blow to Netanyahu’s bitter enemy, Israel’s largest tabloid newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

>> 'Flush your iPhone': The minute this scandal became a Netanyahu bribery case

On top of his public actions, it seems that Netanyahu found another means to influence his media coverage, in ways that raise suspicions of criminal activity. As revealed in TheMarker, back in 2009 Netanyahu struck a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have weakened Israel Hayom in exchange for more positive coverage of Netanyahu in Yedioth. That affair turned into Case 2000. Later, according to the recommendations of Case 1000, Netanyahu intervened in the affairs at Channel 10 in a way that constituted a conflict of interest.

Based on what was published on Sunday regarding Case 4000, it seems that this is the most serious case yet. Netanyahu didn’t blanch at granting benefits worth hundreds of millions of shekels to Shaul Elovitch and his Bezeq Group, at the expense of Israel’s communications consumers. The foundation for the case began with the 2015 elections, when Netanyahu was re-elected prime minister and insisted on keeping the communications portfolio for himself, in order to “carry out reforms.” He later signed all coalition partners on an agreement blocking them from intervening in his communication-related decisions. These agreements, combined with the weakened checks and balances in the relevant ministries and in the Attorney General’s Office, granted Netanyahu free rein to carry out give-and-take agreements with Elovitch and Bezeq, primarily through his then-crony Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber, who has since turned state’s witness.

The suspicions against Netanyahu in the Bezeq case revolve around the decisions at the Communications Ministry that made things too easy for the company: Quick, perfectly timed approval for Bezeq’s merger with Yes in 2015; the rejection and softening of significant parts of the reform mandating that infrastructure companies including Bezeq sell telephony services wholesale to virtual competitors; and additional decisions that impacted Elovitch’s pocket. The police recommendation states explicitly that evidence indicates that Netanyahu received his favorable coverage from Elovitch’s news website Walla in exchange for regulatory assistance.

Does this evidence rely on state’s witnesses? Are there recordings of Netanyahu himself? These questions will be answered if and when an indictment is filed.