Benjamin Netanyahu: “I met with Eli Azur,” owner of The Jerusalem Post and Maariv. “I told him the following, and listen well: ‘How you’ve distorted things, how slanted you are. Why do you keep these people? Either change them or bring in new ones.’”
When questioned by the police in Case 4000, Netanyahu tried to explain, with upside-down logic, that the type of conversations he had with Shaul Elovitch, owner of Bezeq and the Walla news website, were no different than his talks with many other media figures: “Azur told me, ‘Bring me people.’ The same talk I had with Elovitch I had with [Yaron] Dekel a few days ago,” he continued, referring to the then- head of Army Radio. “I also told him, ‘Change your people, diversify. You have no diversity; everything’s biased.’ So he said, ‘Bring me people.’”
This was an aggressive, multifarious effort to gain control of the media. Netanyahu labored to persuade billionaires to buy those wretched Israeli media outlets. Larry Ellison, Arnon Milchan, James Packer, Sheldon Adelson were sent, on Netanyahu’s orders, to meet with Elovitch, Arnon Mozes (Yedioth Ahronoth) and Ehud Angel (Reshet TV). He hooked them up with lawyers – David Shimron, Isaac Molho, the late Yaakov Neeman. That way, his cronies might also earn a shekel or two from this effort.
At the same time, he tried to set up an Israeli version of Fox News. He set up and met with a team, did research and sent them to Ellison.
Akiva Bigman, now a reporter at Adelson’s Israel Hayom daily, attended at least one of these meetings, according to Nir Hefetz, the former Netanyahu media advisor who turned state’s evidence. Bigman wrote the (Hebrew) book “How Netanyahu Turned Israel into an Empire.”
Netanyahu’s grand plans came to nothing. One main reasons emerges from correspondence between Elovitch and Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua in January 2014. Packer was visiting Israel. Elovitch wrote Yeshua that before they met with him, the Australian billionaire would get “a massage in Jerusalem.” One wonders who the masseur was.
Elovitch didn’t want to sell Walla. He and Yeshua settled on the insane price of 800 million shekels ($233 million). “The problem is that sometimes people aren’t rational, and the worst would be if they paid the asking price,” Yeshua fretted. In other words, the masseur from Jerusalem might convince Packer to pay an excessive price for Walla. “Yes, but I need to show gains before then,” Elovitch responded. Case 4000 shows he scored big wins – valuable regulatory benefits for Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his family on Walla.
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For a long time, we thought the only thing that came of Netanyahu’s grand plans was Israel Hayom. In his police interrogations, Netanyahu almost boasts of his failures. In fact, he didn’t fail totally. He may have planted quite a few of “his” people.
From the police statement of Aviram Elad, an editor at Walla: “[Yeshua] told me we have to write right-wing, and I should talk with Shimon Riklin. Riklin sent me to Erel Segal, and he writes for the website to this day. Even though the order came from above, I think it was a worthy appointment.” The detective: “Is Segal always pro-Netanyahu, or can he also be critical?” Elad: “To this day, he’s never criticized him.”
Walla received a list of names from Netanyahu. So did other media outlets. The names repeated themselves. A few of them have become media stars.
In his statement to the police, Yeshua said Elovitch had asked him to make a deal with Yoav Yitzhak of the News1 website. It would be interesting to know why.
Hefetz claimed that Yaakov Bardugo, a propagandist at Army Radio, owes his promotion to a similar chain of events. Maybe this is what Dekel meant when he said in closed meetings that “This appointment saved the station.”
There are many “journalists” today who aren’t just Netanyahu supporters, but who to a large extent owe him their promotions, or even their jobs. Anyone who (like me) mocked the prime minister’s obsession with the media now has to admit that it has become a critical tool for his survival in office.