New excerpts from the secret discussions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes reveal how the two men negotiated a deal for favorable news coverage of Netanyahu – going as far as to discuss potential journalists who could be recruited for the task.
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According to transcripts of recordings cited by Channel 2 on Saturday, Netanyahu asked that Yedioth Ahronoth reduce its "the level of hostility" towards him, while Mozes promised to make efforts "ensure that you remain prime minister." The two discussed which journalists the newspaper would assign to favorably cover the prime minister, and called each other "masters" of manipulating the media.
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Here are parts of the transcripts cited by Channel 2:
Netanyahu: "We are talking about moderation, about a reasonable media, we need to lower the hostility towards me from 9.5 to 7.5."
Mozes: "Of course. But forget it, we need to make sure you will be prime minister."
Netanyahu: "I think we need to worry for the country."
Mozes: "You are the nut job who wants to be prime minister, so be it, suit yourself.
At one point, Mozes asks Netanyahu to specify which journalists he would like Yedioth Ahronoth to hire: "Give me [the name] of a right wing [journalist], I've been telling you for some time."
"I can't," Netanyahu replies, suggesting that one journalist he would have wanted for the task, Haggai Segal, is unavailable. "Shledon took him for Makor Rishon," he notes, referring to a right-wing newspaper owned by Israel Hayom, which is owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Mozes: "Bring me someone who can write articles [starting] tomorrow morning, come on. Starting tomorrow, no strings, before the bill and everying. I'm trying to show good will. Bring [me a name]."
Netanyahu: "Take the other guy. The soccer player "
Mozes reportedly rejects the offer, prompting Netanyahu to ask "what do you care?"
Mozes: "Forget it, I need to save you from yourself. We need someone who can write articles in the middle of the week."
Netanyahu: "Give [my aide] 2-3 names and we will talk to them, we need to make sure they've never publically commented on the [Israel Hayom] bill."
Mozes: "There will be an earthquake [in the newspaper when we change our line], it's something that needs to be done wisely."
On Friday, Channel 2 published other details from the recordings, fleshing out how the two worked out the details of the deal. In their discussions, Netanyahu reportedly made explicit promises to advance legislation that would help Yedioth Ahronoth by muzzling the freebie Israel Hayom, owned Netanyahu's patron and American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
"What's the bottom line?" Mozes asked Netanyahu. "How can we do it quickly?"
"We can legislate it," Netanyahu replied, adding that a "special committee" could be set up for that purpose.
The two discussed the "volume issue," apparently meaning how to limit the distribution of Israel Hayom, or perhaps the ads featured in its pages. Netanayhu and Mozes named two lawmakers who could lead the legislative efforts: MKs Yariv Levin and Eitan Cabel. The latter was the sponsor of the so-called Israel Hayom bill, which banned free handouts of daily newspapers. The bill went into abeyance when the 2015 election was called.
But Netanyahu seemed to be concerned about the reaction of Adelson, who Netanyahu referred to by the nickname "gingie" (red-haired, in Hebrew.) Any solution agreed on by Netanyahu and Mozes was bound to have a negative impact on Israel Hayom.
"I want to speak with the gingie," Netanyahu said. "He'll be here in two weeks. We'll have to see if we can do something that he'll be OK with. Pass another law, maybe."
"I want to make things easier," Mozes responded. "The volume thing we spoke about. It should be a compromise with him."
"But I don’t think it will be OK with him," Netanyahu said.
According to Channel 2, Netanyahu also tried to assist Mozes in selling Yedioth Ahronot. He acted as the intermediary between Mozes and a group of international businessmen, possibly from Germany, with the objective of either selling Mozes' media empire or finding new partners for it.
But Mozes wasn't happy with that solution. In his discussions with Netanyahu he stressed that he wanted a solution that could be achieved quicker than the sale of the entire business.
Also on Friday, Channel 10 cited senior police officials as saying that they will likely recommend charging Netanyahu in both cases, the first of which touches on his negotiations with Mozes and the second of which focuses on suspicions that he received gifts and benefits from businessman. According to Channel 2, these benefits were worth 600,000 shekels ($150,000).
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry and the prosecution believe that an indictment is more likely to emerge from the second case, while the first case is less certain, Channel 10 said.
Netanyahu has repeatedly maintained that the allegations against him are unfounded.