Analysis |

Case 4000 and Abuse of the Israeli Public

Netanyahu-Elovitch deal made communication services expensive and led news media to distort reality and keep the public in the dark

Ido Baum
Ido Baum
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Ido Baum
Ido Baum

Here, in short, are two conclusions from the police recommendations in Case 4000.

One: For a not insignificant period, the communications minister was essentially Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq Communications. At the time it was in Elovitch’s interest to advance regulations that would cement Bezeq’s monopoly. It was also in his interest to receive several favors from the Communications Ministry, in order to enable the publicly-held telecom firm to buy out Elovitch’s privately held shares in satellite TV company Yes, garnering Elovitch himself hundreds of millions of shekels.

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Two: For a not insignificant period – years, in fact – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara was in practice the editor of Walla, a popular, influential news website controlled by the Bezeq group.

This combination is a knockout blow to the Israeli public: expensive communication services, and news media that distort reality and work to keep the public in the dark.

The police recommendations in the Bezeq case were expected – not due to any leaks, but due to how the investigation was progressing. The media are responsible for how the investigation developed, including in no small part Gidi Weitz’s investigation in Haaretz. Case 4000, which came on top of the Bezeq case, was being pushed forward by the media and the public nearly to the same extent, and at the same time that the Justice Ministry was making its recommendations.

The Bezeq case started with the Israel Securities Authority, due to suspicions that Elovitch and decision makers at Bezeq illegally advanced Bezeq’s acquisition of Elovitch’s Yes holdings. During that investigation, suspicions arose that the acquisition was made possible because Elovitch knew that he would receive the necessary regulatory approval from the Communications Ministry.

How did Elovitch know? This is how the Bezeq-Elovitch case turned into Case 4000. The Israel Securities Authority initially ignored this question and what was happening in the Communications Ministry. It hung in the air, and only weeks later did it wind up on the desk of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. Mendelblit, who showed great caution in launching a new investigation into Netanyahu, didn’t rush into another probe. A good portion of the investigations was conducted quietly.

>> To survive three bribery cases, Netanyahu may push Israel's democracy to the brink | Analysis ■ Read the Haaretz investigation that started it all: The Israeli news site in Netanyahu's pocket

When Mendelblit was convinced to take action, the police and the securities authority were given broad decision-making power, including backing to strike deals with two state’s witnesses. One was with Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber, and the second was with the Netanyahus’ communications adviser Nir Hefetz. The two, along with plenty of additional evidence, answer the question of how Elovitch knew he’d get regulatory approval. Filber allegedly worked on behalf of Netanyahu for Elovitch’s good, while the two maintained steady contact.

The contact between Filber and Elovich was only slightly less intensive than the ongoing contact between Sara Netanyahu (generally via Hefetz) and the Elovitches, regarding everything that had to do with Walla’s coverage of the Netanyahus.

The police recommendations do not oblige the state prosecution to act. A decision to issue an indictment, if it comes, is up to Mendelblit alone.

Mendelblit has accompanied the case from its beginning, and he ordered the probe only after he became convinced that the suspicions were serious. He was involved in all the decision-making processes, and he approved the state’s witness deals and backed the investigators. Case 4000 won’t conclude without an indictment.

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