Beleaguered Netanyahu Lashes Out at Media: I Want to Respond With a Few Slaps of My Own

'We are in the midst of an unprecedented media campaign aimed at tarnishing me with empty accusations,' prime minister says. 'I will not turn the other cheek, I want to return a few slaps of my own'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 25, 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

In an interview with Channel 20 News on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu related to the investigation of the submarine acquisitions and to the embroilment of his confidant Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the Communications Ministry, in the Bezeq affair.

Netanyahu claimed that there was a media campaign aimed at toppling his government and that he was sure that these affairs would turn out to be of no consequence.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented media campaign aimed at tarnishing me with empty accusations and at overthrowing the government” he said, adding; “I will not turn the other cheek, I want to return a few slaps of my own.”

On his decision to be interviewed on a night show on this channel, Netanyahu said: “I need a place I can speak in freely. Almost the entire media is mobilized in this campaign and they don’t let you talk. You can ask me any question but on Channel 20 I can finish my sentences, while the others don’t let me. It’s not in their DNA.”

“When they interview Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] or send flowers to [new Labor leader] Avi Gabbay or interview President [Obama] Obama they ask hard questions such as ‘what is the secret of your charm,' but when they interview me, the prime minister, they won’t let me finish a sentence”, he added.

Netanyahu harshly criticized Channel 2 news correspondent Amnon Abramovich, saying it was Abramovich who defined the term "leatreg," referring to the term describing the treatment of politicians with kid gloves.  "When it’s a politician who is for returning to the 1967 lines and who supports the uprooting of Jews from their homes it’s okay to leatreg. But when it comes to someone like me it’s about removal, embarking on an artificial and hypocritical campaign.”

He also mocked Channel 10 investigative journalist Raviv Drucker. “This person joins an illegal demonstration near the home of the attorney general in order to exert pressure on him. What kind of journalist participates in a demonstration funded by friends at the New Israel Fund?”

 Regarding attorney David Shimron, who is representing Michael Ganor, the broker in the submarine deal, and Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber, Netanyahu said: “I know them to be honest people, people with values, and I’m certain, without any doubts, that nothing will stick to them – I’m sure of that. A person is questioned, that doesn’t mean he’s guilty. Secondly, there is no connection between these things and me. They are saying that as well.”

In relation to his ties with Bezeq chairman Shaul Elovitch, Netanyahu read from a document prepared by the Justice Ministry: “The Ministry of Justice has determined that the prime minister did not make any controversial decisions before a legal opinion was given on a conflict of interest.” When asked whether he had known about ties between Filber and Elovitch he replied “I have no idea, I don’t know a thing about it, nothing.”

With respect to the submarines affair Netanyahu said: “The attorney general himself said explicitly that there are no suspicions against me. There are no suspicions here and none there. This doesn’t prevent the media from coming out swinging, inflating these affairs.” He added: “They talk about Michael Ganor. I don’t know who that is. I’ve never met him. I don’t know what he’s associated with or what he isn’t associated with.”

When asked why he insisted on purchasing the submarines, the prime minister responded by saying: “This is an existential need. They guarantee the existence of Israel, no less. That’s why I wanted six or even more. There were some who wanted only five. There was a debate and the issue was resolved. We reached a decision and everything was documented. It involved the entire system, including the Defense Ministry, the navy and the National Security Council.”

The prime minister also related to "Case 1000," in which he was questioned on suspicion of systematically receiving gifts and benefits from tycoons. “There is a law regarding gifts that specifies from whom one cannot accept gifts. It says that you can receive gifts from close friends. It’s exactly the opposite of what they’re saying. I was questioned in this affair but not on the others. They try to make it look like I was investigated in the other cases as well.”

Earlier on Thursday Netanyahu summoned cabinet and Knesset members who are close to him and asked them to defend him in the media, following disclosures in the submarines and Bezeq affairs. The meeting was attended by ministers Miri Regev, Tzachi Hanegbi, Ayoub Kara and Ofir Akunis, as well as by MKs David Bitan, Anat Berko, Yoav Kish and Amir Ohana. Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Yariv Levin were also invited but couldn’t participate due to other meetings they had scheduled.

Netanyahu’s political assistant Shai Hayek distributed a page with quotes from the state comptroller’s report, stressing the viewpoint of the Justice Ministry which claimed that Netanyahu gave nothing to Bezeq and was without blemish in his capacity as Communications Minister. A few hours later his bureau announced that he would shorten his visit to Paris and Budapest – assumingly in order to deal with the political crisis – and would leave on Saturday night instead of mid-day Friday.