“I can’t explain to you how much I’m not,” investigative journalist Raviv Drucker says, referring to how little he’s afraid of Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the prime minister’s onslaught against him on Facebook and elsewhere.
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Drucker, the host of Channel 10’s investigative news program “Hamakor” (“The Source”), a political commentator for Channel 10 News and an occasional op-ed writer for Haaretz, has earned some of the biggest scoops on the prime minister.
Last month, Drucker revealed that Netanyahu wants Israel to buy three more German submarines for about $1.5 billion, while his attorney David Shimron is also the lawyer for the man representing the German company in Israel.
'Someone said it was necessary to take me down'
Drucker, 46, talks to Haaretz about his life as a journalist under attack by the prime minister, not to mention the private detectives that have been sent to investigate him.
Have you received threats to your life because of your latest investigative reports?
“There was a situation that I don’t want to elaborate on, because it has gone to the police and the police are investigating it. I don’t think it’s dramatic. Someone said it was necessary to take me down.”
Did you have security protection?
And your family as well?
“Both my home and my person.”
How did that feel?
“It was very oppressive in terms of going about my business – when you want to go out of the house you have to tell someone. That's a nuisance, and it’s also a very uncomfortable feeling when you’re sitting in your living room at night and it’s warm and pleasant, and some poor guy is sitting outside in a car and has to stay awake all night and watch my home.”
Is this no longer happening?
“No. I managed to convince the heads of Channel 10 that this surveillance wasn’t necessary at the moment. If something happens, we’ll bring them back.”
Not an easy life. You’ve opened so many fronts with a lot of people. What are you getting out of it?
“This has a lot of benefits, both in terms of ego and way beyond that. Think about an affair like the submarines if it turns out that I really am on to something very big; why a deal that’s connected to Israel’s strategic future was managed in such a way.”
So you want to go down in history?
“Yes, but let’s not exaggerate. Still, I did chalk up an achievement, both for myself and the journalistic community. More importantly, the idea is to connect the work to something bigger. If I manage to clean up an atmosphere with this kind of reporting, it makes me feel that my life and work have meaning.”
Some people would say that you’re seeking attention, that there’s something childish in your need to attack all the time.
“A person like me, who attacks the whole world – it’s crazy to think that they won’t attack me back.”
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This isn’t the first time, but this time it’s different.
“Yes, this time it’s more violent. But really, it’s coincidental that the investigative reports on [son] Yair Netanyahu, the submarines and [religious-Zionist general] Ofer Winter came out one after the other. This sequence created a kind of boom. I didn’t build it that way, it just developed on its own.”
Do think there are trolls in the pay of the government?
I’m sure there are. But as long as I can’t prove this with evidence, I can’t say that.”
Have they ever tried to tap your phone? Hack into your email?
“I don’t know. I know that a number of times private detectives who know me called me and told me they’d been asked to do an investigation on me.”
Who asked then? Who commissioned the investigation?
“They didn’t agree to tell me. The very fact that they told me about it at all was stretching their professional limits. But it really doesn’t bother me. I try to protect myself, I have all kinds of methods that probably aren’t perfect, and if someone has insane capabilities, he can penetrate them. I need to protect my sources.
“As for my personal life, dozens of investigators have fallen asleep out of boredom in an attempt to trail me. As for the information itself – well, let’s say Bibi knew about the submarines two days before I aired the report. He knew about [corruption allegations] Bibi Tours a month in advance. So what? What can he do? There’s evidence. I’ve seen a lot of reporters who’ve become very antsy over the years.”
“Yes. Very. Quite early on I decided that I wasn’t willing to go there. I work on myself. Where it’s necessary to be careful, I’m careful, but living in that endless paranoia would simply destroy my life.”
Submarines and an attorney general
Let’s talk for a moment about the submarine affair, which the police are looking into. What does that man – a police inquiry?
“It’s really a joke that they are doing an inquiry and not a full investigation. Look, this story about inquiries didn’t start today and it's always possible to hide behind others who have done it, but no one has exploited it so crudely. [Then-attorney general] Menachem Mazuz also pursued inquiries against [then-Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, but when concrete material came in, like in the Talansky [cash envelopes] story, it immediately became an investigation. The inquiries didn’t go on for years and they weren’t as feeble and toothless.
“The investigators really have a hard life. They set out to investigate someone but their hands and feet get tied. About every person they want to investigate, they have to ask: ‘Am I allowed to summon this person? To question?’ In a certain sense this is even worse than not investigating at all because you’re just skimming over the evidence, destroying it, strangling it, and then you say there’s no scope for more than that. I can’t recall an inquiry becoming a significant investigation that culminated in anything.”
And all the while maybe, or maybe not, there’s that mysterious inquiry concerning Netanyahu and no one knows what it’s all about. Do you?
“The story about businessman James Packer and the favors to Netanyahu’s son, Yair Netanyahu, is definitely there in that mysterious inquiry. This I know for certain. Is that the significant thing? According to the reports, there’s one significant thing and I don’t know if that’s it. I’ve heard about people who have been questioned and have given testimony about that.”
'For many of the ministers in his cabinet it’s pure physical suffering to serve in this government'
In the framework of the investigation?
“In the framework of the endless investigation. Look, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is apparently a person with a lot of basic integrity, fairness and ability.”
You think so?
“Personally, I know him only very little, but from what I’ve heard even from people who aren’t fans of his, that seems to me to be the case. He isn’t corrupt – it’s something else. It’s as if investigators came to you and said they needed your approval to arrest your best friend.”
That’s exactly the concern that accompanied his appointment.
“I thought it wasn’t right on his part to become a candidate, and unfortunately it turns out there was something to that concern. This is a person he was very close to, sat with him a lot. It’s natural that he would be more ”
That he would let this affect his work?
“He doesn’t see it like that. A very senior former politician once said to me: Any case that’s less than a corpse or photos of Netanyahu accepting an envelope, Mendelblit simply won’t open it. In the cases of [opposition leader] Isaac Herzog and [Shas party leader] Arye Dery, he changed it from an inquiry to a full investigation in the blink of an eye, but Netanyahu is simply a psychological Rubicon he can’t manage to cross.”
So in your opinion he’s not doing his job properly.
“I have no doubt that he isn’t doing his job properly while he’s continuing with those inquiries concerning Netanyahu.”
What will happen in the submarine affair?
“I think that whatever happens, some people will have to give very significant explanations.”
Even at the top?
'There’s a lot more information about the submarine affair that hasn’t been made public yet'
“I don’t know if it will go as far up as Bibi himself. Certainly not in the way it’s being looked into at the moment. But there are a lot of people, from former navy chief Eliezer Marom to David Shimron who have a lot of explanations to give. Did Bibi know or not? It’s hard to believe that he didn’t know, but until there’s proof of that, it’s impossible to say.”
Do you have more material that you plan to air?
“There’s a lot more information about the submarine affair that hasn’t been made public yet.”
And do you plan to air it?
“Yes. I don’t have a recording of Bibi calling Angela Merkel and telling her: ‘If there’s no commission there’s no deal,’ but a lot of information is coming in all the time about the affair. It’s Sisyphean work to confirm and connect everything, and people aren’t talking because of the inquiry.”
Likudniks afraid of Bibi
In this round between you and Netanyahu, he has taken the gloves off.
“He has changed his tactics. It started back during the election campaign, when he named names, like that of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes and so on. Until then there was a kind of unwritten rule that the prime minister didn’t do you the honor of mentioning your name.”
How do you understand this?
“He’s very much under the influence of his wife, Sara Netanyahu, and his son Yair. Imagine yourself in their shoes and the suspicion that you’ll be under an investigation and you’ll be called in for questioning and will have to reveal things. So from their perspective it’s best to be as aggressive as possible right from the outset.
“Anyone who’s taking a simple view is focusing on the rancor toward me, but this strategy is directed at Knesset members, the attorney general, the state comptroller, the head of the investigations division – look at the level to which we’re invested in this matter.”
Today it’s Raviv Drucker and tomorrow it’s you.
“Yes, so you’d better not begin to go into this. Listen, this is working for them pretty well. Even Netanyahu’s political rivals, Yair Lapid and Herzog, won’t go anywhere near it. From his perspective he has marked out territory. Ostensibly he’s saying: “You can attack me about [the outpost] Amona if need be, but don’t you dare bring up my wife, children or lifestyle. There I do not forgive. He has managed to educate the political community based on this.”
Is this why the opposition has been silent? You know, somehow it has emerged that you’re the opposition. You’re doing opposition work.
“A situation has developed that never really occurred before with any other prime minister, except maybe David Ben-Gurion, in which there hasn’t been an alternative leader to this one throughout nearly all his years in office. Not on his own side and not in the other camp. The opposition is very weak. Especially its leadership.”
Are the politicians afraid of Netanyahu?
“Many of them are afraid of him, above all in his own party. I can’t begin to count the number of Likud ministers and Knesset members who prayed harder than I did for Netanyahu to lose, even though they knew that the price would be sitting on the opposition benches for a number of years. For many of the ministers now in his cabinet it’s pure physical suffering to serve in this government. But they’re afraid. He knows this. He’s an intelligent person. He knows this and they know this, but at the moment this masquerade is serving them all.”
Are you afraid of him?
“I can’t explain to you how much I’m not.”
Well, please try to explain.
“There’s the matter of his ability to get things done. He’s really good at writing the post on Facebook and packaging the claim, and he chooses every word deliberately, but he can’t take it all the way to getting things done.
“Look at the operation to eliminate Channel 10. He made this a very high priority on his list, fought against a channel on the verge of bankruptcy and dependent on the state – how difficult could that have been? If this mission had been given to Ariel Sharon or to Ehud Olmert, we’d already be buried in the ground alongside the deceased newspaper Hadashot.”
What’s the real reason he didn’t shut down the channel?
“He simply didn’t succeed. Netanyahu has a very poor capacity for getting things done. This is what I’ve been trying to tell everyone. And if the new public broadcasting corporation does arise, it will be more proof of this.”
What do you think of the Facebook posts Netanyahu has written about you? Six or seven posts within a few weeks, very blunt posts.
“Writing a post about this and then another post and another post – as I see it, this is simply not the behavior of a prime minister. It’s inconceivable that a prime minister of Israel would busy himself with this.”
No one disputes that at this point in his career he has given up on class.
“Well, Netanyahu sees himself as a Churchill. A kind of a Churchill. Would Churchill have fought some reporter this way?”
In The Guardian you said you were surprised at the vigor with which he’s pursuing you – the time and effort he’s investing.
“I think it’s just plain hallucinatory. I’ve been investigating prime ministers for years. Think about how many things land on the prime minister’s desk. The military secretary walks in, having chosen from among all the amazing intelligence material; Israel collects only the 10 most important reports, reports that should glue you to your chair in fear – this one is planning a terror attack here, that one is smuggling from there.”
Is anyone who supports Netanyahu able to judge a revelation by you objectively?
“I don’t know what all of Bibi’s supporters are thinking, but there are a lot of Knesset members from Likud, as well as ministers, who think that these investigative reports have been very problematic.”
What? Are you talking to ministers and MKs from Likud?
“Of course. I always talk with ministers and MKs from Likud. What, you think they’re boycotting me? I’m sure there are many Likud ministers and MKs members who have a better relationship with me than they do with him.”