Netanyahu's Former Aide Dismisses 'Lies' About His Influence on Walla

Walla's former CEO claims that Nir Hefetz intervened in a 2015 election interview to make it 'in favor of Netanyahu

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua in court at Netanyahu's Walla-Bezeq corruption trial in June.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua in court at Netanyahu's Walla-Bezeq corruption trial in June. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Nir Hefetz, the state witness in the Netanyahu trial, said on Monday that the perception that he dictated Walla’s coverage was mistaken, and stemmed from a false impression created by former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.

Hefetz’s 10th day of testimony revolved around efforts by the defense to demonstrate that the requests made to Walla on Netanyahu’s behalf were routine matters, and that some of them were even rejected.

His testimony continued the discussion about an interview with Netanyahu on Walla on the eve of the 2015 election, which was edited and changed after Netanyahu and his staff protested.

Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former adviser, called the claim that he was “a Walla editor” “an out-and-out lie.”

“Yeshua claimed that everything that was in favor of Netanyahu, ‘That’s Nir Hefetz.’ Yeshua’s lies and his manipulation of the investigation materials were incomprehensible,” Hefetz said.

Hefetz confirmed that there were preliminary agreements regarding the interview, but that they dealt with how it was to be conducted, and didn’t include Netanyahu’s team approving it for airing after the recording. He said that the suggestion to edit the recording came from the Walla staff.

“Netanyahu isn’t worried about tough questions,” explained Hefetz. “Everything’s about the packaging, how they ask. I told the media [to give him] the same respect as Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] or Mubarak. The interview came out well. Netanyahu was angry about how interviewer Dov Gilhar asked him the questions, interrupting him, attempting to show him up.”

Gilhar said that he was unaware of the agreement, and Hefetz called that a “scandal,” in light of his contacts with Yeshua, Bezeq's former owner Shaul Elovitch and Walla editor Avi Alkalay.

Yeshua claimed at first in court that he was unaware of the agreement, but afterwards he retracted his claims.

Hefetz said interactions with Yeshua were accompanied by “roars,” and that “it’s not certain that Elovitch was aware of the details of the agreement.”

He said the suggestion to edit the interview came from Walla, but couldn’t remember who made it.

“Netanyahu wanted to shelve it. Yeshua said that this would turn it into a media scandal because Gilhar would resign and we don’t need this scandal, so that was off the table.”

In the end Netanyu approved the edited interview, “only when there was a version that satisfied him. It couldn’t be aired until I said ‘Okay.’ From the moment the [preliminary] agreement was violated, Elovitch said not to publicize it without our approval. That was his order.”

Netanyahu’s defense attorney Boaz Ben Tzur presented the demands for editing by Hefetz and Netanyahu. He showed that some demands weren’t implemented. Prosecution representative Amir Tabenkin objected.

Earlier, Ben Tzur presented examples of requests by Netanyahu’s associates that were also accepted by other media outlets. One example was a demand to publish a response by the Netanyahus to a report about Meni Naftali, the former chief caretaker in the Prime Minister’s Residence. “A response is always sent to all the media outlets,” explained Hefetz.

The prosecution claimed that the defenders were presenting an incomplete picture of what happened at the website, and attorney Michal Rosen Ozer, representing Iris Elovitch, replied: “The indictment doesn’t make it sound like there was also [some] negative coverage. There was an attempt to balance a website with DNA hostile to Netanyahu.”

The head of the judge’s panel, Rivka Friedman-Feldman, said that they had received “a picture that everything was negative.”

Regarding whether it’s legitimate to contact media outlets with a request for favorable coverage, Hefetz said: “I worked based on the idea that I’m representing my client’s righteousness, not only the prime minister and his family but the Likud. I contacted them out of a sense of inner justice that I was doing right.” He said he had made his request to Yeshua “politely,” as Ben Tzur put it, because he didn’t trust him.

Regarding requests to the websites about letters of support by employees of the PM’s Residence, which were not publicized in the end, and which Ben Tzur said were “essential” for Netanyahu, Hefetz said that the letters were important to Sara Netanyahu, who initiated them.

“Netanyahu dealt with that personally, it was important to him to have it publicized, and we distributed them everywhere.”

He said he was very surprised when they weren’t publicized. “I was in regular contact with Elovitch, he said this website is mobilized to help the prime minister. I assumed it was a done deal.”

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