Attorney General Rebuffs Calls to Release Netanyahu-Mozes Tapes as Prime Minister Lashes Out at Media

Release of recordings of negotiations between prime minister and media mogul would obstruct the police investigation, Mendelblit says, defends decision to delay probe into case.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on January 16, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected calls to release the recordings of Prime Minister Netanyahu's talks with media mogul Arnon Mozes on Monday, saying that such a move may obstruct the ongoing police investigation. 

Mendelblit added that he intends to consider the release of the tapes, due to their public significance, but that at this time their release would impede the investigation. 

Amid the continuing leaks from the recordings, Netanyahu attacked the media earlier on Monday, telling a meeting of the Likud faction that the media was functioning as "both the investigator and the executioner." 

In a speech at the Netanya Academic College, Mendelblit defended his decision to delay the launching of a police investigation into the talks, in which the two allegedly discussed a deal to have Mozes' daily give better coverage for Netanyahu in return for stifling Sheldon Adelson's free newspaper. 

Mendelblit said that his decision was motivated by a need not to obstruct the police investigation into the so-called gifts affair, or Case 1000, which includes allegations that Netanyahu received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from wealthy businessmen.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avichai Mendelblit, 2015.
Marc Israel Sellem

The attorney general said this decision was reached together with the head of the police investigations unit and the state prosecutor. "The decision was motivated by one consideration – what will promote the public interest. An immediate and premature release of Case 2000 and the media storm that was sure to follow wouldn't have allowed progress in Case 1000, which necessitated many actions."

"We made a strategic decision which I believed was very right. Today, the head of the Israel Police's Investigations and Intelligence Division, the state prosecutor and I are of the same mind that the decision was well-meditated, right and justified."

Police are investigating whether Netanyahu and Mozes negotiated a deal in which the prime minister would receive favorable coverage in Yedioth in exchange for cutting back on the extent of the commercial activity of the competing, pro-Netanyahu freebie daily Israel Hayom. Tape recordings of their conversations are a key part of the evidence. 

Leaks from the secret discussions between Netanyahu and Mozes have been rocking Israel this past week. Most recently, new excerpts revealed 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.

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.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu took a defiant stance, lashing out at the media and pledging to “continue leading the country,” in response to the release of more excerpts of his taped conversations with Mozes.

Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu disparaged his critics, saying: “To all those reading the excerpts, here is another one for you...This won’t help you. I intend to continue leading the country.”

Netanyahu accused the media on Monday of being “both the investigator and the executioner...The goal is to increase pressure to file an indictment against me. This propaganda campaign is an attempt to hide from the public’s eyes the achievement’s of the government. The Israeli public doesn’t buy this assault. Many citizens support us,” said Netanyahu adding that “there was no criminal offense.” 

On Sunday, Netanyahu related to the accusations on his Facebook page. “All these claims that I acted to promote a law [restricting] Israel Hayom are false."