Three police interrogators sat opposite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the study of the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. “This is being recorded on video and audio,” they informed him. “Please speak into the microphone.” The cameras were switched on. The proceedings were relayed live to the office of the attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit. The interrogation of the prime minister was underway.
Netanyahu took a sip from the glass of soda water on the table, and for most of the time kept his legs crossed. Behind him, on the wall, was a map of the world. At his sides were two telephones, a paper shredder and bookshelves with some family photos. At times he left the room – sometimes to consult with his lawyer, the late Jacob Weinroth, and sometimes to take a work call. “I’m guessing it’s Trump,” the head of the interrogation team, Chief Superintendent Shlomo “Momi” Meshulam, quipped when the door opened and one of the gophers signaled the premier to come out for an urgent call.
The questioning was tough. On one side were interrogators whose experience lay primarily in dealing with criminal organizations. Opposite them was the most sophisticated politician in the vicinity, a sharp rhetorician and a quick study, who made skillful use of his proven dramatic abilities. When he wanted to emphasize something, he spoke in a quiet tone. When he got angry, he raised his voice. From time to time he pounded hard on the wooden table in front of him.
He resorted to English expressions frequently. He suggested to the interrogators that they take what Yair Lapid had said “with a grain of salt.” The Hebrew phrase he used most was “ma pitom!” (“No way!”), followed by “I don’t remember” and “kishkush balabush” or “kishkush mekushkash” (roughly, “stuff and nonsense” and “balderdash”). Occasionally he took notes. At the conclusion of the session, he shredded them, at the interrogators’ request.
Over the course of two years, Netanyahu was questioned under caution in the various cases opened against him. The transcripts of his sessions with the interrogators contain hundreds of thousands of words. The dialogues below constitute a small selection of the exchanges.
The police interrogators arrived at the Balfour Street residence for the first time on January 2, 2017. The senior officer was the chief of the National Fraud Investigations Unit, Brig. Gen. Koresh Bar-Nur, and with him were Chief Superintendent Meshulam and Superintendent Danny Yaffe. They had come to Jerusalem after taking testimony secretly from businessman Arnon Milchan and his personal assistant, Hadas Klein. The two had related that for years they had supplied the Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu with boxes of expensive cigars, bottles of champagne and jewelry. The giving was one-way and high frequency, effected through messengers and using code names. The merchandise ordered was stashed in opaque bags for delivery.
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“Netanyahu was aware of all the gifts his wife asked for,” Klein testified. “They’re a hedonistic couple,” Milchan explained.
How did Milchan – an Israeli-born billionaire whose business interests run from producing movies to trading in arms – describe his relations with the prime minister in his first police interview? “Between an acquaintance and a friend.” Netanyahu, in contrast, told the interrogators that Milchan was “a very close friend.” At this stage, he didn’t yet know what the Hollywood producer had revealed.
According to Netanyahu, the ties between the two grew closer in 1999, following his first term in office. “I was a political cadaver at that time,” he told the interrogators. “I had no future. I was a goner.”
Meshulam: And since then the ties have been intense?
Netanyahu: Like brothers.
Netanyahu claimed that a series of legal advisers had given him the go-ahead to accept gifts from close friends, because there was nothing improper about it. “It was Weinroth and [David] Shimron, or [Yehuda] Weinstein. It could even have been Avichai [Mendelblit], I don’t remember… I was always told there was no problem.” He didn’t have a written opinion from them. In his testimony, Weinroth confirmed what Netanyahu said; Weinstein, the attorney general until February 2016, and Mendelblit, his successor, denied it.
Meshulam: Did they set limits?
Netanyahu: They didn’t set any limits. If someone buys me a plane, I can understand that it’s a no – but cigars and clothes? The answer is yes.
Meshulam: Tell me, please – besides cigars, what did you and your family receive from Milchan?
Netanyahu: My family? I couldn’t tell you.
The interrogators dwelled on the subject until Netanyahu remembered that Milchan “sometimes brings bottles of champagne.”
Meshulam: What champagne?
Netanyahu: Champagne, I don’t know.
Meshulam: To whom?
Netanyahu: To my wife, to us.
Meshulam: What does “brings” mean? Explain it to us.
Netanyahu: He brings, I don’t know. I’m not involved with that so much, but I know that from time to time he brings.
Meshulam: What is “from time to time”?
Netanyahu: Ask him, I don’t know exactly.
Meshulam persisted, and finally Netanyahu blurted out: “Every few months.”
Until that moment, the questioning had proceeded calmly. But then the interrogators fired another volley of questions about the number of bottles of champagne that Sara Netanyahu had received from Milchan. According to the evidence, the champagne flowed into the official residence frequently. For the first time in the interrogation, and not the last, the prime minister blew a fuse.
Netanyahu: I don’t believe you’re asking me about this, but all right. I’m telling you – I don’t believe that you’re asking me that question.
Netanyahu: But go on, it’s your right.
Meshulam: It’s our obligation, by the way.
Netanyahu: Your obligation? I don’t think so. You’re trying to say here something that is the complete opposite of advice that I received time after time.
The interrogators didn’t relent: “Did you see the quantities of champagne bottles?”
Netanyahu: From time to time I saw a bottle here, a bottle there… What do you think, that I count bottles… Maybe I count different things that are related to our existence here? Such as how many missiles are aimed at us, things like that?
Meshulam: You don’t know either quantities or frequency. Do you know, by the way, what type of champagne you received from Milchan?
“I know it might sound strange to you,” Netanyahu continued. “What do you think happens when we meet? Milchan has an incredible connection with [former U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry… That’s what I sit and talk to him about, yes? And we take out a cigar and smoke… Do you think I know what my wife received? Arnon comes and tells me, I’ve just had a phone call from Kerry or from Tony Blair… He was in an Arab state and he has something to report, and he became, by the way, not only a personal friend of Kerry’s, but very, very involved in diplomatic moves… That’s what occupies me in those meetings… Not how many bottles of champagne Sara received, or whether Yair and Avner received anything. Who has time to deal with that?
“In Milchan’s home, champagne was drunk in lakes, in cascades, in rivers… When we came to Shimon Peres, he would say, ‘Here’s Arnon’s champagne’” – Netanyahu, to the interrogators
In their testimony, Milchan and Klein described how Sara Netanyahu demanded, over a period of months, that they buy her another expensive item of jewelry for her birthday. Milchan was apprehensive and evasive, but when the pressure continued he asked for explicit authorization from Benjamin Netanyahu. When he got a green light from the prime minister, the jewelry was bought. “He called and told me it was legal,” Milchan related in his testimony.
Bar-Nur: Did your wife receive a piece of jewelry from Milchan?
Netanyahu: No. I don’t know that she received [one].
Meshulam: You don’t?
Netanyahu: Maybe she did, maybe not.
Meshulam: You don’t know.
Netanyahu: I don’t know, maybe.
Meshulam: Last September your wife received a piece of jewelry worth almost 11,000 shekels [approximately $3,000, at the time].
Netanyahu: I don’t have the foggiest idea.
Meshulam: You don’t have the foggiest?
Netanyahu: I don’t have the foggiest … Nothing.
Netanyahu: This is the first I’ve heard about it.
Meshulam: The first time.
Meshulam: You never talked about it? You didn’t ask Milchan?
Netanyahu: Nothing. I haven’t got the foggiest idea. What you told me just now? Completely new to me.
Bar-Nur: A surprise?
The prime minister tried to explain to the interrogators that Milchan had almost begged Netanyahu to accept gifts from him. “It almost always came in the wake of his encouragement or approach to us: What can I do [for you]? I want to send you things.”
Netanyahu: Because he loves me, this is my brother.
Meshulam: Like a brother…
Netanyahu: Like my brother. He knows that I work hard, it’s hard work. He says, if I can make life more pleasant for my brother, who is working for the State of Israel and doesn’t get a lot of praise from the public, and gets media investigations organized by the police…
Meshulam: I say to you that you knew about the item of jewelry your wife received from Milchan.
Netanyahu: About the last piece of jewelry? A total lie.
Meshulam: A piece of jewelry that she’d been saying for quite a while that she wanted. A very specific piece of jewelry that she didn’t receive. She went to you and asked you to intervene in the matter.
Netanyahu: For me to intervene about a piece of jewelry?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember anything like that.
Yaffe: It happened a minute ago – last September.
Netanyahu: I didn’t know she received it. You’re telling me that.
Bar-Nur: When is your wife’s birthday?
Netanyahu: Now you’ve caught me.
Meshulam: We won’t tell…
Netanyahu: Nothing has to leak, but here you’re in trouble.
Meshulam: Yes… He always comes up with the tough questions, Koresh does.
Netanyahu remembered that his wife was born in November, and his memory was jogged about something else. “Why doesn’t it ring a bell for me?” he suddenly asked rhetorically. “Because it wasn’t anything special. I understood that among friends, [it’s permitted] to receive jewelry, too.”
Meshulam: We asked you at the start of the conversation… You said champagne, a few cigars,
Netanyahu: I asked about that, too.
Netanyahu: And what if someone gives a gift to the wife, a piece of jewelry.
Meshulam: Whom [did you ask]?
Netanyahu: Weinroth, Shimron, in my opinion also the attorneys general.
Netanyahu: I’ll remember in a moment.
Meshulam: And if your wife demands a gift? Did you ask the attorney general about that?
I bring the Netanyahus cigars and pink champagne. To be exact, these are not gifts that I bring of my own will, rather I am asked by the Netanyahus to bring them… I find it disgusting, it comes from a place of hedonism.Milchan, in his testimony
Netanyahu: I didn’t ask… Friends can offer and you can also request from them.
The interrogators noted that Milchan had spent hundreds of thousands of shekels on these gratuities, and that there was a huge number of cigars involved, of the most expensive and high-quality kinds.
Netanyahu: I don’t ask, he offered.
Meshulam: We’ll get to that.
The interrogators wondered what gifts Netanyahu had given, for his part, if he had such a good relationship with Milchan. “I don’t know,” Netanyahu replied. “Sara deals with that.”
Meshulam: Sara gave him gifts?
Meshulam: It couldn’t be that it was something that was one-way?
Netanyahu: It wasn’t one-way, because I gave friendship in return.
Meshulam: What friendship did you give in return?
Netanyahu: Do you think friendship is only expressed in gifts?
Meshulam: Does it seem logical to you, for example, that in the course of one week, Milchan supplies your wife with 20 bottles of champagne?
Netanyahu: I don’t know.
Meshulam: Is that how you define friendship?
Netanyahu: I don’t keep track of it.
Repeatedly, Netanyahu was asked whether that was a logical quantity of champagne, until he provided the following answer: “My wife doesn’t drink three bottles of champagne a day. She’s not Irish, a wrestler who weighs 150 kilograms [330 pounds].”
“I never gave them gifts. What do you think, that I’m stupid? It’s not legal.” – Sheldon Adelson, in his testimony
After hearing Netanyahu’s first version of testimony, the interrogators decided that it was time to show their cards. “You described him as a brother,” Meshulam said, of Milchan. “We’ll soon see how he describes the relationship between you.”
It was one of the most dramatic moments of the interrogation. Meshulam started to read out things Milchan had said in his testimony. “Let’s put it like this: For the past five-six years, I bring the Netanyahus cigars and pink champagne. To be exact, these are not gifts that I bring of my own will, rather I am asked by the Netanyahus to bring them… I find it disgusting, it comes from a place of hedonism.”
Netanyahu looked surprised. “That sounds astonishing to me, I have to say, it’s astonishing and also very disappointing for me to hear.”
The interrogators read out another quote from Milchan: “About half a year ago, Hadas Klein spoke told me that Sara had asked me to buy her a piece of jewelry for her birthday. I said that until I hear from Bibi that it’s legal, I’m not authorizing it… Bibi told me that it wasn’t [like] a case of buying a house, and that it’s legal.”
Netanyahu: I remember that I spoke with him… in general about the question of the gifts. Not about a specific piece of jewelry.
Meshulam: It was [only] a few months ago.
Netanyahu: True. I have a few more things, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. An election in the United States, also wars here and there. Attacking in Syria.
Meshulam: Did you not see a few months ago that your wife received a piece of jewelry from Milchan?
Netanyahu: The answer is no.
Bar-Nur: You received gifts worth between 700,000 shekels and 800,000 shekels. Does that seem proper to you?
Netanyahu: I’ll reflect on that and let you know.
Meshulam: You’ve never thought about it until today?
Three days went by and the interrogators returned to Balfour Street, this time to question Netanyahu about Case 2000, which concerns quid pro quo conversations between the premier and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. Toward the end of the questioning, Bar-Nur asked him whether the prime minister had had time to reflect on the cost of the cigars and the champagne Milchan bought for him and his wife. “I don’t cross the normative bar,” Netanyahu replied instantly.
Bar-Nur: Then why did it take you time, and you didn’t say so straight off?
Netanyahu: Well, I’ll tell you. I reflected on it, okay?... Now I’ll tell you, this wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, what you’re doing here. It would never happen that they would go to [former French President] François Hollande or [U.S. President] Barack Obama and say to them, “You received cigars from your friends”… You didn’t even investigate [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert’s 1.3 million shekels worth of pens… Is there one law for Olmert and another one for Netanyahu?
Bar-Nur: Will you go on receiving cigars and bottles?
Netanyahu: No, I won’t go on.
In another session, Chief Superintendent Meshulam returned to the subject of the item of jewelry: “You told us, ‘I didn’t know anything about it’… Weinroth told us unequivocally: Mr. Netanyahu consulted with me about the necklace that Arnon Milchan gave to Mrs. Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu: Fine, I don’t remember.
Meshulam: How do you explain the contradiction?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember speaking to him about a necklace… There might have been a question about an item of jewelry.
Meshulam: It’s a substantive contradiction.
Netanyahu: It’s not a substantive contradiction… It could be that he remembers. True, I didn’t remember.
Meshulam: Your answer wasn’t I don’t remember, but unequivocally no.
Netanyahu: That’s right. What of it?
In a later interrogation Netanyahu would confirm what he had denied vigorously at the outset. He had given Milchan the go-ahead to buy the piece of jewelry. This is what it sounded like subsequently, during the interrogation process:
Bar-Nur: Did you ask him [Weinroth] specifically about the piece of jewelry?
Netanyahu: Yes, certainly, because Arnon asked… In this specific case, Arnon asked me about the piece of jewelry.
“Milchan has deep pockets, and his arms are so short that he can’t reach them.” – Adelson, in his testimony
Two-and-a-half weeks went by until the next interrogation. Netanyahu greeted the interrogators with photographs and mutually fond letters between him and Milchan. “I’ll fill libraries for you here,” he promised them. “This is Sara and Amanda [Milchan] at Lake Kinneret, and here I am with his children. Are these relations of coercion?”
The perusal of the album ended, and Netanyahu brought up a burning issue: He tried to persuade the interrogators, and through them, Mendelblit, that a “Chinese Wall” existed between him and Sara. He understood that this was a key point.
Netanyahu: My wife and I are two separate people. There are things that I don’t know about her, and there are things that she doesn’t know about me… I have no problem putting my hand in my pocket.
Meshulam: You have a very serious problem… Everyone says, he never has money.
Meshulam: He never has a wallet… And he can never find any money.
Netanyahu: Listen to me carefully, I heard your argument. Now you listen to my reply… I have no problem putting my hand in my pocket… Do you hear what I’m saying? I am going to say a few things. They are sensitive.
Suddenly Netanyahu dredged up the name of the late media adviser Shaya Segal, who had worked as a spokesman for him and his family for free, over a period of years. When that became public, Netanyahu, at the advice of his lawyer, wrote him a check, paying him a one-time fee of 2,500 shekels. Segal, who testified to the police about the episode, told the interrogators that the moment Netanyahu’s wife learned about the payment she roared at him – “Her usual fit,” in his words – and demanded that he return the money. Segal acquiesced.
“Shaya, when he returned the money, I didn’t know that in real time,” Netanyahu said. The interrogators were taken by surprise, as they had not raised the subject. But the premier insisted on continuing. He mentioned other advisers who had worked with him – Odelia Carmon, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. At a certain stage, all three, according to him, received some sort of payment out of his pocket.
Netanyahu: So, first of all, I don’t know a lot of things, and second, Sara doesn’t know, either. She didn’t know about the payment to Odelia, to Bennett and to Shaked. I paid. I put my hand in my pocket willingly.
Netanyahu: Certainly. Tens of thousands of shekels.
Bar-Nur: Sara didn’t know?
Netanyahu: She didn’t know… Now, what happened? When she [found out], she wanted the money back.
Netanyahu: I’m not getting into that at this time.
Meshulam: You brought it up.
Netanyahu: I want to tell you…
Meshulam: Why did she ask for the money?
Netanyahu: I’m explaining something here, and it’s sensitive… These are two separate entities. I don’t know what she does, I don’t know what she agrees on about champagne or not champagne.
Meshulam: You don’t know?
Netanyahu: I don’t know.
He kept squirming in the hope that the interrogators would take his point, without him having to spell it out explicitly. “There is a sensitive problem here,” he explained again.
Meshulam: I didn’t get it. What’s the sensitive problem?
Netanyahu tried to explain how apprehensive he was about a leak on this subject: “There are sensitive things that I am saying here, which sometimes leak out, perhaps unintentionally.”
Bar-Nur: What is the sensitive problem?
Netanyahu: Here, I’ll tell you. Family relations. Relations within the family.
Bar-Nur: Do you wish to say something that is relevant to the investigation?
Netanyahu: In my opinion, super-relevant.
Bar-Nur: Then, sir, say them with full sensitivity.
Netanyahu: I have no problem putting my hand in my pocket, and that is documented from here to kingdom come… Now, friends also know: If there is sensitivity, it doesn’t exist here. It doesn’t exist in me…
Bar-Nur: You are hinting to us?
Netanyahu: You know what? I am not hinting. Delete that, drop it.
Bar-Nur: Then what?
Netanyahu: Drop it, delete…
Bar-Nur: The money [to Bennett and Shaked] came back because of the family sensitivity?
Netanyahu: Correct… Or they didn’t have time to redeem the check. I don’t remember… I have no problem putting my hand in my pocket. That’s not my problem… Sara and I are separate entities… Sara separately and me separately.
“We are an average Ashkenazi family, I’m not so connected to my parents.” – Yair Netanyahu, in his testimony
Toward the end of 2013, a new figure entered Netanyahu’s life: James Packer, Milchan’s young partner, whose family is well known in Australia for its casinos, media holdings and other business interests. Shortly after meeting Netanyahu and his family, Packer, too, apparently began to underwrite expensive gratuities for the couple.
In one interrogation session, Meshulam asked Netanyahu what his family had received from Packer. “He invited Yair to vacation in Aspen and Ibiza,” Netanyahu related. He also knew that his son spent time and occasionally slept in a luxury apartment that Packer rented in Tel Aviv at a cost of tens of thousands of shekels a month.
The prime minister also confirmed that he asked Packer to buy the mansion adjacent to the Netanyahus’ home in Caesarea. Packer bought the property, and from the testimonies it turns out that Netanyahu behaved in it almost as though he owned the place. Packer’s housekeeper testified that the prime minister was often a guest there and that before his visits, she was asked to stock the house with cigars and champagne.
Meshulam: Hadas Klein says that you put constant pressure on her for Packer to buy the house next to yours, and you also told Hadas to call attorney Shimron. She says: Listen, he called so many times, I didn’t understand why. Does that ring a bell for you?
Meshulam: It never happened?
Netanyahu: To say the least.
Netanyahu: That is so not true. I spoke with her once or twice and without pressure… Pressure? What a huge bluff.
Meshulam: Why did you speak to her?
Netanyahu: ...You can’t take a good friendship…
Meshulam: Why did you speak to Hadas about this? I’m not succeeding in understanding what you said to her.
Netanyahu: Nothing. I wanted to know whether it was happening.
Netanyahu: What why? You want to know who’s camping out next door.
I have no problem putting my hand in my pocket. That’s not my problem… Sara and I are separate entities… Sara separately and me separately.Netanyahu, in his interrogation
Meshulam: Did you tell her to do anything?
Netanyahu: In my opinion, I think I gave her the name of the… real estate agency…
Meshulam: Had you known him [Packer] for a long time? Were you real friends – ‘bros? How long had you known each other?
Netanyahu: Two to three months.
Meshulam: Two to three months and already…
Netanyahu: It ignited immediately.
“You’re living in la-la land… You know, in the end the truth will out and it will fall.” – Netanyahu, to the interrogators
Two months passed. In November 2017, the interrogators returned to the Balfour Street residence with the goal of focusing on the cigars. In earlier sessions, Netanyahu claimed to have bought vast quantities of them with his own money. According to his account, he used cash that he had withdrawn from the bank, and sometimes dollars he received from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky. According to Netanyahu, he gave tens of thousands of shekels to his bureau chiefs and to chauffeurs who were employed in the Prime Minister’s Office, for them to buy him cigars. This was another line of defense aimed at undermining the interrogators’ thesis that the funding came from Milchan.
The interrogators urged the prime minister to give them names, to no avail. “Why, sir, do you not want to tell us?” Meshulam wanted to know. Bar-Nur took advantage of the opportunity for a dig at the prime minister: “Do you need to coordinate [accounts] with them? That’s what it looks like.” Netanyahu rebuffed the implication. He explained that it’s not pleasant to give a name and cause a certain person to be interrogated; he preferred for the police to take testimony from everyone. Throughout the investigation, he stuck to his account: I took out many thousands of shekels in cash, and the chauffeurs or the bureau chiefs used the money to buy me cigars.
Meshulam: You were carrying cash?
Netanyahu: If needed.
Bar-Nur: Do you have a wallet in your pocket?
Netanyahu: No, but I take cash and give [it].
Bar-Nur: So you have no wallet, sir?
Netanyahu: So they give it to me, they take out money for me.
Bar-Nur: Is there no credit card, either?
Netanyahu: Oy, nu really. They bring me money from the bank and I put it into my pocket or my bag.
He told the interrogators that almost all the cash he took out of the bank was intended for the purchase of cigars. “Almost 100 percent,” he told them. “In the past few years I’ve hardly had any other expenses.”
The interrogators found it difficult to accept this narrative. They took testimony from the bureau chiefs and the chauffeurs, and came back with the findings.
Bar-Nur: We questioned all the bureau chiefs, and with the exception of Natan Eshel, all the others claimed that over the years they bought two or three cigars for you. What do you say to that?
Netanyahu: I say that I spent a great deal of money.
Bar-Nur: But they say… no…
Netanyahu: There are also the drivers. Did you question all the chauffeurs?
Bar-Nur: We brought in all seven chauffeurs, yes?
Bar-Nur: ... With the exception of one chauffeur whom we’ll get to in a minute, all of them, all seven, said: Wow, we didn’t buy anything for Bibi!
Bar-Nur: … There’s one driver who noted that he bought for you at a specific store in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu: Good… good.
Bar-Nur: It’s a driver whom Natan Eshel told us [about] explicitly, that he bought. He [the driver] told us: “This is the store.” We went to the store, [the proprietor] told us: “That’s malarkey, neither that Iluz [the driver] nor Eshel ever came here to buy cigars.” What do you say to that?
Netanyahu: Malarkey on top of the malarkey!
“Milchan never gave anyone anything without a reason.” – Businessman Yossi Maimon, in his testimony
At one stage in their investigation, the interrogators sought to understand Netanyahu’s attempts to involve Milchan in Israel’s media market. The interrogators knew that the prime minister had on several occasions utilized Shlomo Filber, a former director general of the Communications Ministry who turned state’s evidence, to help Milchan secure a major interest in (what was then) TV Channel 2. Filber was even summoned to discuss the matter in Milchan’s seaside mansion in Beit Yanai, near Netanya.
According to the interrogators, Filber told them that, “One thing was of interest to Netanyahu – he had an obsession with who would manage the [Channel 2] News Company. He hoped that if Milchan were the owner, he would have a favorable person.”
Netanyahu vehemently denied the interrogators’ allegations, according to which he tried to help Milchan make money, and along the way to benefit from a biased and well-disposed media tool. He termed his efforts to create one company – a monopoly that would unite Keshet and Reshet, the two commercial television channels – a matter of national interest.
“I go to Milchan not as a businessman but as an Israeli patriot,” Netanyahu explained, “and I tell him: The media needs to be diversified. It’s a national mission. It’s an international mission.”
Milchan’s accountant, Ze’ev Feldman, told the interrogators that the idea was for people “well-disposed to the prime minister,” in his words, to be part of the monopoly News Company. When Feldman’s account was put to Netanyahu, he drew on one of the leaders he reveres: “How did Ronald Reagan put it? An immortal sentence. ‘Personnel is policy.’ Would you install [former Meretz party leader] Zehava Galon to manage it?... I want to change the policy.”
During other sessions, Netanyahu was confronted with other cases in which he had come to Milchan’s aid. The prime minister helped his tycoon pal with a critical personal and financial matter: renewing his U.S. visa for 10 years. Milchan’s visa was canceled after he had spoken on the Channel 2 program “Fact” about his involvement in arms dealing in the 1970s and 1980s, including the purchase of components for the Israeli nuclear program.
Netanyahu acceded to Milchan’s request, approached top-ranking people in the United States, and solved his friend’s personal problem. In his interrogation, the premier said he did so to avoid “concrete damage to Israel.” He feared that the Americans would interrogate Milchan about his past. “That needs to be killed when it’s small,” he told the interrogators. Milchan himself, by the way, did not express any concern that he would be questioned.
Netanyahu drew a comparison between assisting the Hollywood producer and his approach to foreign governments in an attempt to help the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who was then ill with cancer and needed a liver transplant. “He was my enemy,” Netanyahu said about Dagan, “he acted against me vis-a-vis the Americans, but despite that I approached foreign governments.”
Bar-Nur: What’s the comparison?
Netanyahu: I am comparing in one respect only: Israel’s security. The one contributed to Israel’s security and he deserves my intervention, the other contributed to Israel’s security in a realm for which I am responsible and deserves my intervention. It has nothing to do with cigars.
The interrogators told Netanyahu that in 2014, the year in which he made an effort to assist Milchan get his visa renewed, the supply of cigars “reached the peak of all the peaks, to the tune of 200,000 shekels [more than $51,000, at the time].” Netanyahu replied that he didn’t believe it. “I don’t smoke quantities like that,” he said.
Subsequently, he was questioned on suspicion of having tried to persuade Yair Lapid, the finance minister at the time (and chairman of the Yesh Atid party), to extend what was dubbed the “Milchan law,” which stipulates a tax exemption for returning Israelis on income originating outside Israel. Netanyahu approached Lapid on the matter in the wake of lobbying by Milchan, six years before the law’s expiry date.
“I don’t buy umbrellas in the rainy season,” Milchan explained to the interrogators when asked why he started his campaign so early. Lapid testified that Milchan met with him in the basement of his home in north Tel Aviv and asked him to promote extending the exemption. Lapid checked, heard the serious objections of the ministry’s experts, and opposed the move. Around this time, during a meeting Lapid held with Netanyahu, the latter urged him to set the process in motion.
“I told Bibi that it’s not a great idea,” Lapid said in his testimony. “We met again and he asked, What about the exemption? Is anything going forward? Did Arnon speak to you? It’s a good amendment, it’s a good amendment… I thought that this wasn’t a subject for the prime minister [to be dealing with] and that it was very strange that the prime minister was approaching the [responsible] minister on this matter.”
When asked about this, Netanyahu said he didn’t remember. Subsequently, though, his memory was sparked.
Bar-Nur: Milchan told you: I spoke with Lapid. Do you go and talk with Lapid after that?
Netanyahu: Could be.
Meshulam: What a shock.
Netanyahu: Milchan is raising an issue that’s important for the Israeli economy… You’re shrugging it off… I think that there is a tremendous competition over these people… If you had a hundred Milchans, the Israeli economy would gain.
Meshulam: Milchan hasn’t had any business activity in Israel since 2009.
Netanyahu: I don’t know, I didn’t know anything.
“Would you like something to drink?” Netanyahu asked courteously. The interrogators declined politely. This time the police team consisted of Brig. Gen. Eli Assayag, head of the National Economic Crimes Unit, Commander Yoav Telem and Chief Superintendent Yoram Ne’eman. By their side was Yariv Amiad, an investigator from the Israel Securities Authority.
Not long before this, the police had arrested the controlling shareholder in the giant Bezeq Telecommunications firm, Shaul Elovitch, and two Netanyahu confidants, Nir Hefetz and Shlomo Filber. The suspicion: Elovitch allowed Netanyahu to assume effective control of the news site Walla, which he owned, and to tilt its coverage in the premier’s favor, in return for government moves worth hundreds of millions of shekels to Bezeq: approval of the merger of Bezeq and the Yes satellite TV company, and delay of a reform that was intended to reduce the cost of using telephone landlines.
The interrogators arrived in Jerusalem with a strong card: Filber, a Netanyahu loyalist who had served as the director general of the Communications Ministry, had crossed the lines and turned state’s evidence. He told investigators how Netanyahu had directed him to assist Elovitch’s business interests. At this stage, Nir Hefetz was still invoking his right to remain silent.
Netanyahu, for his part, was more agitated than he was in the interrogations of the other cases. He frequently used the terms “outrage” and “huge absurdity.” “This has no precedent in the history of democracy,” he told the interrogators.
At the start of the questioning, Netanyahu was asked to describe his relations with Elovitch, whom he had met in meetings with industrialists. “The relations grew stronger, to the best of my recollection, during the shiva [seven-day mourning period] for my father-in-law, in 2011. They came, and he and his wife were very warm… It looked genuine… And then, a year later, they came to a dinner and from there the ties were forged… He was already the owner of Walla, and I wanted to talk him not a little about that subject… It’s not a friendship in the sense that we’ll say: We’re going over to his place. I’ll give you an example; these are friendly ties that are more – I’m not talking about ideological identification – more or less identical to those with [former Supreme Court President] Aharon Barak and his wife.”
Chief Superintendent Ne’eman produced an affidavit that Netanyahu had submitted in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by attorney Shachar Ben Meir, requesting the list of the meetings that had taken place between Elovitch and the prime minister. “Here you state that you term him a personal friend and a buddy for 20 years,” the interrogator asserted.
Netanyahu: I am defining for you the relations precisely… He was not a friend and a buddy. I know him. Buddy? I don’t know what that is…
Ne’eman: You’re the one who gave that description: a friend and a buddy for 20 years.
Netanyahu: It’s a third-circle friendship… I call it friendliness.
Ne’eman: It’s an affidavit you signed.
Netanyahu: First, I confirm that it’s my signature. Second, my intention in that description was exactly what I am telling you: loose acquaintanceship… I remember that he is right-wing… That reminds me, you’ll pardon me, of when I’m asked if I’m in favor of two states [Israel and Palestine]… I told my friend, Vice President Joe Biden: Look, I don’t know what you mean, but I am telling you that in any settlement, what you call “two states,” Israel will be in absolute security control west of the Jordan.
Netanyahu: And he says, “That’s not a state.” [I replied to him:] “You call it a non-state, I call it a state…” There is a real question here, not of definition but of essence. What the essence was. The essence is exactly what I am describing to you.
Ne’eman: Describe for us the conversations you conduct about his businesses.
Netanyahu: I don’t remember that he talked about his businesses at all, he talked about the world economy…
Ne’eman: I give you credit for remembering.
Netanyahu: First of all, he didn’t talk to me about his businesses, to the best of my recollection… I remember that my conversations focused mainly on trying to persuade him to change Walla’s line… I had a general beef with him: You are a right-winger who bought Walla from Schocken [majority owners of the Haaretz Group]. Behave like Schocken, but in reverse. You have a fairly unimportant website, which leans heavily to the left… And you, unfortunately – even more than Schocken – are uploading articles about Judeo-Nazis, an apartheid state, enough with immigration, revocation of the right to return, East Jerusalem to the Palestinians forever… That very much irritated…
One of the interrogators wondered how Elovitch responded.
Netanyahu: “My hands are tied, there are people”… So I told him: “Change the people…” I came to Washington in 1982, I was a minister in the embassy. And you had Reagan as president, somehow I had the chance to speak with him a few times. Everyone thought he was dumb. He was the least dumb there is. And Reagan had a saying, “Personnel is policy.” I told [Elovitch]: “Bring in people…” It’s possible we also talked about people.
Netanyahu: I can’t remember.
Amiad: It’s not so many years back.
Netanyahu: I can’t remember. I gave [him] names. For sure I put forward names.
Telem: Why would he agree?
Netanyahu: That seems to me the most natural thing… In practice, this website had no influence. It’s not Ynet, which is powerful… It’s a cats and dogs site.
Telem: Then why bother with it?
My conversations with [Elovitch] focused mainly on trying to persuade him to change Walla’s line.Netanyahu, in his interrogation
Netanyahu: Because it’s irritating… The question that interested me was why he didn’t do it.
Telem: The evidentiary material we have indicates that Shaul did act. We’ll present it to you immediately.
Netanyahu: In your eyes he acted, in my eyes he did nothing… I came to him time after time and in the end you tear out the little hair you don’t have… I’ll tell you: He’s a kind of frightened right.
“What direct requests did you make to Elovitch to drop an item [on the website], to run an item, to change?” Telem asked later.
Netanyahu: I suppose there were a great many. Just like others… Walla is hundreds of negative articles about me. Hundreds. So certainly there’s a reason to call every day.
Ne’eman: Did you talk to him about appointments and firing journalists at Walla?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember specifically, but I do remember that there were conversations of that kind. I don’t deny them. It’s completely natural.
Ne’eman: In other words, you, communications minister and prime minister, talk to Elovitch about firings and appointments at Walla.
Netanyahu: I try to persuade him.
Ne’eman: The investigative material indicates that your activity and that of your people concerning Elovitch was irregular and unknown relative to other communications media.
Netanyahu: It was low-key irregular… My approaches to [Sheldon] Adelson and Amos Regev [owner and chief editor, respectively of the freebie newspaper Israel Hayom] were much more major. And to Channel 2… lots, lots, lots.
“I tried to persuade Elovitch to change [course],” Netanyahu added later. “In Likud, that site is called ‘Walla Hamas.’”
Amiad: In Likud, or in the Balfour Street residence?
Netanyahu: In Likud and in the Balfour Street residence.
Commander Telem wondered aloud how Netanyahu made such significant requests “of a businessman about whom you are supposed to make decisions.”
Netanyahu: With me there’s a Chinese Wall… If I do something, they are formal signatures. They bring me a packet like that with rubber bands. I’m not exaggerating, every day… And I don’t look at them. Don’t remove them from the rubber band… I sign, move on, sign, sign, sign… Bezeq was of absolutely no interest to me.”
But Bezeq was very much of interest to Elovitch. When MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) served as communications minister, in 2013-14, he refused to approve the Bezeq-Yes deal. The approval would be given, he stressed, only if Elovitch would agree to a reform that would reduce the cost of landline use.
Toward the of 2014, Netanyahu assumed the communications portfolio. A few months later, on the eve of the general election, Elovitch hoped that approval for the deal would come from the new minister. When Walla ran accounts of what was going on in the prime minister’s residences, Elovitch wrote immediately to Walla’s CEO, Ilan Yeshua, “Delete immediately, it will prevent the Bezeq-Yes deal. I’ll kill you.”
Commander Telem asked Netanyahu to tell the interrogators about the conversations he conducted with Elovitch about the deal and the reform. Netanyahu stuck to his position that Bezeq had been of no interest to him.
The interrogators presented him with a “fraction of a fraction” of the text messages Elovitch had sent, which showed the scope of the pressure exerted on him by the prime minister and his aides.
Ne’eman: Why do you ask Elovitch to delete negative stories dealing with you and your wife?
Netanyahu: Why not? Those are political stories. If I had adopted a policy in favor of withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, the articles would have been positive, both about me and about my wife.
Ne’eman: Elovitch is a businessman whose fate you have to decide.
Netanyahu: There is never a connection between the question of the coverage and professional decisions about Bezeq. None.
Ne’eman: Look at how you run him.
Netanyahu: Well, what of it?
Ne’eman: From morning to night.
“That witness will not collapse. He has already collapsed.” – Netanyahu, about Nir Hefetz
Immediately after the election, Netanyahu fired the man who for Bezeq was like a red rag before a bull: the director general of the Communications Ministry, Avi Berger, who had blocked the Bezeq-Yes deal. In his place he appointed Filber.
Ne’eman: When did you talk to Filber about the Bezeq-Yes merger deal?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember talking to him.
At that moment, the interrogators produced one of the significant building blocks in the Case 4000 structure: Filber’s testimony. The former director general related that in the first working meeting between them, Netanyahu directed him to move ahead on Elovitch’s affairs: to finalize the Bezeq-Yes deal and to moderate the reform intended to lower the cost of landline usage.
Netanyahu: That never happened. It’s simply a lie, a lie, a lie…
Ne’eman: What’s his interest in lying?
Netanyahu: If his lawyer is the brother of Eyal Arad, who said that he would trip me up and pressure me until I die, then anything is possible.
Ne’eman: Filber admires you and loves you, and it’s possible that he loves you to this day.
Netanyahu (in English): Sure, he has a strange way of showing it.
Subsequently, the interrogators showed him text messages Elovitch had written, one of them to Walla CEO Yeshua: “The big guy is taking me by surprise every day anew with the most important things. We have to find a way to recompense him.” And, in another message to Yeshua: “Give the lady [Sara Netanyahu] what she wants. He’s killing himself for me.”
Netanyahu: I don’t know why he said that. I never bound one thing up with another.
A few weeks passed. Hefetz joined Filber in turning state’s evidence. The interrogators arrived at the Balfour Street residence for another session and informed the suspect that they would present him with additional evidence.
They played for Netanyahu a recording of Hefetz relating that Elovitch, apprehensive that the Bezeq-Yes deal was going to collapse, asked Hefetz to set up a meeting for him with the prime minister. As Netanyahu listened to the monologue of his former confidant, his lips moved soundlessly, but one could tell he was mouthing the words “Liar, liar, liar.”
“I explained to Netanyahu in two sentences,” Hefetz had testified, “and he’s a quick study, you don’t have to explain to him twice. Netanyahu is a person of the written word. He went over the document thoroughly… He called the Prime Minister’s Bureau and asked them to arrange a meeting with Elovitch.”
Netanyahu (in English): What a liar, what a liar.
Assayag: Mr. Netanyahu, I see that you are very agitated.
Netanyahu: I don’t remember anything like that, show me support [for that claim].
Assayag: We’ll show you everything.
Netanyahu: I don’t remember anything like that even once…
Telem: Just two weeks ago, you told us that he’s an honest man.
Netanyahu: Two weeks ago, did I know that he was questioned by the Military Police about the possibility he had killed a soldier next to him? The possibility that he placed the corpse on the railway tracks? [The reference is to an investigation into a soldier’s death during Hefetz’s army service; he was implicated at one point but the case against him was later closed.]
Assayag: A polygraph test found that he was speaking the truth.
Netanyahu: Found to be speaking the truth, I don’t know. There are people with a certain character who will come out speaking the truth [in a test]. You know what that character is… If I had imagined that that person had been in an interrogation of that nature, would I have taken him on?... Excuse me, did you check whether that person, who held a government position, reported on the Military Police investigation in the questionnaire he had… I would suggest that you check his reliability.
Assayag: You [plural] didn’t check and brought him here into your inner sanctum.
Netanyahu: It’s possible that that person misled us big-time.
“My son doesn’t understand a thing about business. Zero. Zero.” – Netanyahu, in an interrogation
The names of Sara and Yair came up repeatedly, because the interrogators suspected that they were involved in Case 4000 and had also acted to obstruct the investigation. The cases against both of them were closed due to lack of evidence.
Amiad: Do you recall an event in which attorney Yossi Cohen got up, hugged Yair and led him out of the room after he [Yair] had waved an item from Walla and said to you, “And this, after all the billions you gave Elovitch?”
Netanyahu: I don’t remember, but it could be that he said that, because he has no understanding of it… He’s an impulsive fellow and he gets worked up about these issues… Yair doesn’t understand and he didn’t hear anything, not about Bezeq and not about the [natural] gas. He has no understanding of it… He understands things in other fields. The business world is foreign to him, he has no understanding of it, he doesn’t specialize in it and he has no skills in it.
Toward the end of 2016, reports circulated about a secret investigation regarding Netanyahu. His circle was fearful that the investigation was focused on his relations with Elovitch. One day, Hefetz went to Elovitch’s home and the two agreed to destroy the cellphones with the text messages that were exchanged. After Hefetz left, Elovitch summoned CEO Yeshua and ordered him, too, to destroy every trace of the volatile correspondence between them. Yeshua nodded in assent – but kept everything. So appalled was he by the demand to destroy evidence, that he decided to eliminate the threat of censorship of the Walla site. When the interrogators asked Netanayhu about an incident that took place afterward, he blew a gasket.
Telem: Hefetz says that your wife and your son asked him to meet with Filber, and told him that he needed to stop the assistance to Bezeq because it was no longer possible to influence Walla.
Netanyahu: They approached him? I don’t believe it.
Telem: The evidence is objective. Filber also confirms the meeting.
Netanyahu: Total nonsense… They don’t understand anything about it… There are red lights flashing here. Something isn’t right here.
Assayag: We’ll check.
Netanyahu: They both told you that?
Assayag: We’ll check. There is no flashing red light that we won’t check.
Netanyahu: That’s amazing [in English]. I’m ready to slash my wrists that there was no such thing [in Hebrew].
“Someone initiated and ran these interrogations in order to maintain the situation in which the communications market wouldn’t be opened up.” – Netanyahu, in an interrogation
The last interrogation session related to Case 4000 began with the police team playing for Netanyahu a recording that had been supplied by Hefetz. In it, Yair Netanyahu is heard demanding that Hefetz remove an item that appeared on the Walla site, about a personal matter. During the conversation, Yair tells Hefetz that he was considering speaking to Elovitch directly.
“I am quite stunned by that conversation,” Netanyahu responded. “Yair would speak with Shaul? That’s insane.”
On the same occasion, he didn’t spare words in talking about his son: “Yair, he doesn’t have a clue, he has his own worldview, and it’s not always consistent, to put it mildly, with the facts.”
Telem: Did Yair speak to you about this?
Netanyahu: I don’t think so.
But another recording told a different story. In it, the prime minister is heard speaking with Hefetz about the news item in question, which had not yet been taken offline. “He’s arguing with you?!” Netanyahu is heard saying angrily, referring to Elovitch.
Telem: Why should Elovitch be unable to argue with you?
Netanyahu: I don’t accept that at all. Everything you’re saying has no basis. There is something here that could destroy worlds, and naturally you speak, and I spoke not only with that publisher. I don’t remember if it was in the same case, I also spoke with [Haaretz publisher] Amos Schocken.
Ne’eman: You disparage him [in the recording].
Netanyahu: I am apparently boiling mad, in an emotional storm.
Telem: Did you ask Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to be attentive to requests from Bezeq?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember.
A few minutes later, another recording was played for Netanyahu. “Who’s speaking?” one of the interrogators asked. “It’s unmistakable,” Netanyahu replied. The interrogators played him a recording of part of Erdan’s testimony, in which he related that Netanyahu had asked him “to listen to Bezeq and let them have their day” in regard to the tariffs relating to the reform.
Netanyahu: I don’t remember a conversation with Elovitch and I don’t remember a conversation with Erdan.
Back to the beginning of 2017. Three days after Netanyahu was questioned in connection with Case 1000, the interrogators from the National Fraud Investigations Unit were back at the Balfour Street residence, this time to question Netanyahu in Case 2000, on suspicion that he tried to cook up a bribery deal with Arnon (“Noni”) Mozes, the publisher of Ynet and of the mass-circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu’s role in the deal: to cause damage to Israel Hayom by means of legislation, or by persuading its owner, Sheldon Adelson, to reduce the freebie newspaper’s circulation. Mozes’ part: to skew Yedioth’s coverage sharply in Netanyahu’s favor.
“Look me in the eye,” Mozes said to Netanyahu. “On the assumption that there is a law that you and I agreed on, I will do the most [spoken in English] for you to be here as long as you want. That is what I told you and I am looking you in the eye again and telling you that.”
Yair, he doesn’t have a clue, he has his own worldview, and it’s not always consistent, to put it mildly, with the facts.Netanyahu, in his interrogation
“It’s a proper and important law,” Netanyahu said to him, referring to legislation aimed at harming Yedioth Ahronoth’s competition.
The prime minister didn’t know that the interrogators had two recordings of meetings he held with Mozes toward the end of 2014, at a time of political drama: the legislation about Israel Hayom was passed by the Knesset in preliminary reading, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, and Israel was plunged into an election campaign.
At the start of the interrogation, the police team didn’t reveal the crucial detail to the suspect, but put out feelers about his relations with Mozes. “It’s the elephant in the room,” Netanyahu told them, “the person whose name must not be spoken. He can do anything – penetrate, collect files, he has, after all, more diverse and more highly developed means than yours… He is against me, because I don’t kowtow to him, unlike my predecessors.”
“Did you meet?” the interrogators asked. “A few years ago,” Netanyahu replied. “There were attempts at mediating… He doesn’t believe me, I don’t believe him. We string each other along.”
Meshulam: Then why waste time?
Netanyahu: Do you know with how many heads of state you have matters like that?... We deceived each other.
Meshulam: About what?
Netanyahu: That he would handle the media so it would be in my favor… He thought I would do something for him with Sheldon [Adelson]… I know one thing for certain. I never even once told Sheldon or Miri [Adelson’s wife, Miriam] to do something about that matter.
Meshulam: Were the meetings with Noni documented?
Netanyahu: I didn’t document them.
Bar-Nur: There are no minutes? Video? Audio?
“You’re way offside … This is a crazy conspiracy” – Netanyahu, to the interrogators
Long minutes went by and Meshulam showed his cards: “You claimed here vigorously that you didn’t record anything of your meetings with Mozes… But you did record the meeting. What do you have to say to that?”
Netanyahu: I didn’t record.
Meshulam: You didn’t…
Netanyahu: Ah, it’s possible that there was an attempt to record, right.
Meshulam: What do you mean by an attempt to record?
Netanyahu: It’s possible that Ari Harow [Netanyahu’s former chief of staff] tried to record… Could be. I don’t know. He wanted to record.
Meshulam: At his initiative?
Netanyahu: I don’t remember. We said, Noni is recording for sure…
Meshulam: I’m telling you that you initiated the recording. What do you have to say to that, sir?
Netanyahu: I didn’t remember until you told me just now… We saw him take out a device, put in a device. I don’t remember. It could be… And then I said, he’s recording for sure and I’m exposed to him.
During the interrogation, Netanyahu said he wanted to consult with his lawyer, the late Jacob Weinroth, who was nearby. When he returned from the consultation, his account became sharper.
“I am under a constant threat of blackmail with that man [Mozes]. He stabs, stabs, stabs,” he told the interrogators. “And in that recording, I also remember now, I catch him. When I record him I can actually see who the man is, if judgment day should arrive.”
Meshulam: That’s the reason you recorded?
Netanyahu: Clearly, now I remember it.
Meshulam: What is “judgment day”?
Netanyahu: Judgment day? You have a lot of situations in which it could be that he suddenly takes control again…
Meshulam: Are you holding him by the balls?
Netanyahu: Excuse me, no. No way… I can’t know what he will do someday. After all, he wants to eliminate Israel Hayom… Adelson is not a young person, okay? And let’s say he passes away and suddenly you’re back to a country that’s ruled clandestinely by this thing [Mozes]… I am trying to understand what brought that thing about. Why I recorded…
Meshulam: That’s what we’re asking.
Netanyahu: Sheldon Adelson dies.
Netanyahu: There’s no Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu: I want the country to know who it’s dealing with… You return to a situation where that man rules the country again.
“Do I need him to put a bullet into the head of my children?” – Netanyahu, about Mozes
In March 2017, while Netanyahu was trying to dismantle the public broadcasting corporation, the interrogators returned to Balfour Street. Right at the start of the session, Netanyahu provided another intriguing explanation about the reason for the secret dialogue with Mozes: to prevent the possibility that one of his children would take his own life.
“He is my awful enemy… He has acted against me since the 1990s… He acted against me in Likud when I ran against Arik [Sharon]… From the moment that Adelson founds Israel Hayom, that thing becomes a jihad, jihad, jihad… And then, in one of the meetings between us, he tells me the following…”
Netanyahu: Noni, absolutely. He says to me, listen, I am third generation in the press, I live for it. That paper [Israel Hayom] is endangering everything I hold dear. I can’t hurt Adelson, he is immune from my point of view, [but] I can hurt you, everything you hold dear.
Bar-Nur: Did you feel threatened?
Netanyahu: Nu, what do you think?
Meshulam: Up until today you haven’t told about that.
Meshulam: Very interesting.
Netanyahu: I actually did tell you something.
Meshulam: You didn’t say you felt threatened.
Meshulam wondered why Netanyahu hadn’t filed a complaint with the police. “Did you question Zehava Galon about why she didn’t go to the police?” Netanyahu replied, quoting the former Meretz leader, who related that she had been threatened by associates of Mozes because of her opposition to the Israel Hayom legislation. The interrogators pressed for a more lucid answer, and Netanyahu replied: “Would anyone believe me?”
Meshulam: You thought you wouldn’t be believed?
Netanyahu: And how could I prove it?
Meshulam: That’s the reason?
Netanyahu: Among others… My word, his word. What’s it worth?
In his interrogation, Mozes denied vehemently that he threatened Netanyahu.
“Let’s examine the relations between the press and the police, let’s examine the relations between the press and the state prosecution.” – Netanyahu, in his interrogation
At another stage, the interrogators dealt with the third side of the triangle in the drama: Sheldon Adelson. They asked Netanyahu whether he had recommended to the casino king the recruiting of certain journalists to Israel Hayom, after they heard in the recordings that Mozes had suggested to him to choose journalists of his liking to write in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Sure,” Netanyahu replied.
Meshulam: The current editor [Amos Regev]?
Netanyahu: I had doubts, but never mind.
Meshulam: What doubts?
Netanyahu: That he wouldn’t be punchy… Over the years we [Netanyahu and Adelson] had many conversations about that.
Meshulam: What were your beefs?
Netanyahu: I don’t control Israel Hayom…
Meshulam: What did you complain about?
Netanyahu: Why are you even getting into this?... I can be not satisfied, and I really am not satisfied. Do you know how many arguments I had?... I would like to see more investigative reports… I would be a lot more aggressive, and I don’t have to become Noni [for that]. It’s enough to be Haaretz. Look at Haaretz.
“He’s going to make me prime minister? Tell me, am I an idiot? Does anyone believe that stuff? At that moment he would shoot me.” – Netanyahu on Mozes, in the interrogation
A few months went by. Adelson came to Israel and gave significant testimony, in which he told the interrogators that Netanyahu had approached him several times with requests that were aimed at paving the way for a deal with Mozes. In 2009, Netanyahu had asked him to block or delay the publication by Israel Hayom of a weekend edition that would compete with Yedioth Ahronoth’s popular paper. In 2014, he requested that Adelson reduce the freebie’s circulation. Adelson refused.
Meshulam: Adelson says you asked him to prevent the publication of the weekend edition in 2009.
Netanyahu: I didn’t request.
Meshulam: Sheldon says so in a recording.
Netanyahu: Then maybe he’s wrong… I don’t remember… He is not a young person.
Meshulam: He’s very sharp, with an excellent memory… Miri Adelson and Ari Harow say the same thing.
Netanyahu: What does he [Harow] know? Did he sit with me and Sheldon?... I am a great compartmentalizer. That’s the first thing I learned in the second training session of the unit [the Sayeret Matkal commando unit he served in]… And no one tells Sheldon to do anything. Not even the president of the United States…
Meshulam: And you don’t tell him, try to reduce the circulation?
Netanyahu: When I buy time, in preparation for fighting the battle of my life, I say to Sheldon whatever I say. I don’t remember anymore.
Meshulam: Are you angry at us?
Netanyahu: I’m not angry… I’m angry that I am saving the State of Israel from the talons of Noni Mozes and you are interrogating me… Does that sound logical?... Do you understand what the implications are for democracy? There’s something enormous here.
That was Netanyahu’s huge challenge: to explain the disparity between the actions he took to realize the deal with Mozes, and the account according to which he had no intention of keeping his promises to him. In another session he let the police in on a secret in an attempt to bridge the gap: “This is classified, you mustn’t let it get out, all right?” he said to them. “We have neighbors who are our bitter enemies. I send them messages all the time. Mislead them, destabilize them, trick them, and afterward I beat them over the head. It’s exactly the same here… It’s a political war against someone who has taken control of the country, and I am breaking his bones.”
The questioning about his requests to Adelson had run its course. It was a Friday, Netanyahu wanted to go to the family home in Caesarea. “I would be very pleased if you would come [there] one time, we’ll take a whole day and finish with this,” he said to the interrogators.
“Koresh has a hard time coordinating a few hours with you, and now you want a whole day?” Meshulam asked, and then returned to the premier’s denial of the recording.
Meshulam: You told us you didn’t make recordings. That is a lie.
Netanyahu: My dear Momi, it is not a lie, just a memory problem.
Meshulam: If it’s not a lie, sir, I don’t know – and forgive me for saying this – I don’t know what a lie is.
Netanyahu: It’s not a lie.
Meshulam: When a person lies, he has a reason. You knew those recordings entangled you, and only when you realized that they were in our hands did you remember.
Netanyahu: That’s not true… I am fighting on so many fronts…
Meshulam: Do you believe what you’re saying?
Netanyahu: Every word.
Meshulam: It’s even embarrassing…
Netanyahu: The truth embarrasses you.
Meshulam: Embarrassing, embarrassing…
Netanyahu: Don’t talk to me like that… I’m asking you.
The evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial will begin in January in Jerusalem District Court. He is accused of bribery in Case 4000 and of fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000.