Lottery Chief Tried to Axe Explosive TV Report on ex-Mossad Head's Romantic Affair

The report alleged that Yossi Cohen had an affair with a married flight attendant and revealed sensitive information. After it aired, the lottery nixed ads worth millions at the TV channel

File – Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at a conference in Herzliya
File – Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at a conference in HerzliyaCredit: Moti Milrod

The chairman of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, Avigdor Yitzhaki, pressured executives at Israel's Channel 13 television to try to prevent the broadcast of an investigative program revealing former Mossad director Yossi Cohen's alleged romantic ties, Haaretz has learned.

Mifal Hapayis, one of the country’s largest advertisers, had been spending millions of shekels a year on airtime on the channel. Following the broadcast of the program, a meeting between Channel 13 operator, Reshet, and Mifal Hapayis over advertising purchases for the coming year was cancelled, dealing a major financial blow to the station.

The report last December on investigative journalist Raviv Druker’s Channel 13 program “Hamakor” (“The Source”) alleged that Cohen had an affair with a married flight attendant. The flight attendant’s husband claimed on the program that the Mossad director had revealed sensitive information to him and his wife.

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Yitzhaki confirmed in a conversation with Haaretz that he had approached Reshet CEO Avi Ben Tal ahead of the broadcast and expressed his consternation. Yitzhaki told Ben Tal that the item was unworthy of being broadcast and should be pulled off the air: “Since when does the media here deal with such tabloid rubbish, with screwing around?” Yitzhaki asked.

Yitzhaki, who also spoke to Drucker himself, told Haaretz that the reply he got was: “There isn’t a media outlet that would give up on material like that after it fell into their hands.”

Yitzhaki said he had approached Channel 13 of his own accord, not at Cohen’s request. “We have only met twice,” he said. “Once at an event honoring Joseph Ciechanover who had received the Israel Prize.” The event was held a few months ago at the home of the PR mogul Rani Rahav.

Former Mossad director Yossi Cohen, left, and lottery commission director Avigdor Yitzhaki.Credit: Moti Milrod and Ohad Zwigenberg

The second time they met was shortly before the broadcast. “We met at his place,” said Yitzhaki. “He wanted to consult with me on various things regarding his future, and he also told me about the item that was about to be broadcast.”

According to people who are knowledgeable about the matter, Yitzhaki applied pressure on the channel at a sensitive time. Reshet was attempting to renew its commercial agreement with Mifal Hapayis for 2022, but there were issues in dispute. Last month, Ben Tal had been due to meet with Yitzhaki in an attempt to straighten things out, but after the channel broadcast the item on Cohen, the meeting was called off.

Sources at the station are convinced that the meeting was called off due to the broadcast of the item about Cohen. Yitzhaki said, however, that it was postponed due to “medical issues” and that he expected to meet with Ben Tal in the coming weeks.

The Mifal Hapayis chairman said he had not raised the issue of advertising purchases in his conversation with Channel 13 about the investigative report. “The commercial agreement has not been completed because they refused to cut their prices,” Yitzhaki said. “I gave no instructions whatsoever to employees at Mifal Hapayis concerning the Reshet media budget, neither before nor after the investigative report. I don’t deal with those things.”

Since the beginning of the year, Mifal Hapayis has barely advertised on Channel 13. According to data published by Yifat Media, the national lottery had previously allocated 36.4 percent of its television advertising budget to Channel 13, and 53.4 percent to Keshet 12. In the first two months of this year, however the balance has tipped to 90 percent to Keshet and only two percent to Reshet. Industry sources told Haaretz that the financial losses to Reshet were in the millions of shekels.

According to Mifal Hapayis’ 2020 financial reports, its expenditure that year on advertising and sales promotion totaled 96 million shekels ($30 million). The lion’s share of that amount, some 75 million shekels, went to television airtime and ads in the printed press and on radio. An industry source told Haaretz, “Mifal Hapayis has historically accounted for an extremely significant portion of the advertising pie. The chairman is the figure who deals with advertising budgets. They understood the significance of his involvement in this affair.”

Yitzhaki was the director general of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau and was a member of Knesset from the Kadima party. He was appointed chairman of Mifal Hapayis by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the finance minister at the time, Moshe Kahlon.

No comment was available from Channel 13.

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