Israeli Journalists 'Dying to Testify' About Pressure to Cover Netanyahu in Positive Light

Walla news website allegedly skewed coverage in Netnayahu's favor as part of deal with telecom giant ■ CEO: Bosses pressured me to fire an editor

Shaul Elovitch, owner of the Walla news website, entering the courtroom where he was remanded in custody, Feb. 18, 2018.
Moti Milrod

Journalists at the Walla news website are “dying to testify” to the police against the owner of their site, Shaul Elovitch, a journalist who previously worked for Walla said on Monday. Editors and reporters working on the site are angry and eager to be rid of Elovitch for forcing them to slant stories in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he added.

Walla is at the heart of the corruption affair dubbed Case 4000, which among other things has ostensibly linked Elovitch and the website to favorable coverage for Netanyahu in return for regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of shekels for Elovitch’s other companies – in particular, the giant Bezeq telecom company.

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Not only the low-level employees at Walla apparently disliked Elovitch and his intervention in their work: Website CEO, Ilan Yeshua, who was allegedly responsible for instructing editors and other employees to adapt their coverage to suit the demands of Netanyahu and his family, was displeased with the situation, too.

“He [Yeshua] is a good man. He too was dying to be freed from Elovitch’s pressure. He understood that what was going on there stunk,” said the former employee, who was a party to many discussions with Yeshua.

All of the editors at the website, without exception, were apparently required to cooperate with Yeshua’s instructions concerning coverage of Netanyahu. “You couldn’t stand up against him. In the end, it was Yeshua who edited the site – not any editor in chief,” the journalist added.

Yeshua, who's been CEO of Walla since 2006, has sometimes hinted to his employees that if he did not ensure that his orders from above were carried out – he too would be replaced by someone who would. Moreover, such a person would be even worse for the website and could appoint Nir Hefetz as editor in chief.

Hefetz is a former spokesman for Netanyahu and he is now among those under arrest in Case 4000.

Sara Netanyahu wanted editor fired

Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu demanded that Yeshua fire Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad in November 2016, after the website posted an article that angered the couple, according to a Channel 10 News report on Monday evening. Yeshua mentioned that incident during questioning by the police.

The specific news item that angered the Netanyahus concerned what is known as the so-called submarines affair (Case 3000): It stated that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had been asked to open a criminal investigation against Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and cousin David Shimron.

Yeshua told police interrogators that Sara Netanyahu had even searched for materials that could lead to the firing of the then-newly hired editor in chief. As part of her effort to get Elad fired, Sara Netanyahu apparently showed Elovitch a column that had been previously written by Elad, in which he supported the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Yeshua told the police that he refused to fire Elad.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said the couple “will not respond to every false claim mentioned in the media. Any attempt to promote pluralism and diverse opinions in the media is represented as an improper and illegal act. There is an incredible effort going on here to preserve the left-wing monopoly in the media.”

Netanyahu has denied any illegal actions or quid pro quo concerning Elovitch.