Netanyahu Met With Rabbi Heard in Recording With Gantz Strategist Prior to Its Release

Likud says it did not receive recording prior to its broadcast, but does not deny that Netanyahu and Rabbi Guy Habura, who is friends with the PM's personal lawyer, were present at the same place together

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Netanyahu holds a strawberry as he speaks during a visit to a market in Jerusalem, February 28, 2020
Netanyahu holds a strawberry as he speaks during a visit to a market in Jerusalem, February 28, 2020Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

Just days before Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz fired his campaign strategist for criticizing him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the rabbi who took part in the leaked conversation that featured the critical comments.

The recording of the conversation between the strategist, Yisrael Bachar, and Rabbi Guy Habura was broadcast on Channel 12 on Thursday. In the recording, Bachar says that Gantz might “endanger Israel” and that he doesn’t have the courage “to strike in Iran.”

Gantz fired Bachar on Friday.

Habura is friends with Netanyahu’s personal attorney, Amit Hadad.

Likud said it did not receive the recording prior to its broadcast, but did not deny that Netanyahu and Habura were present at the same place together.

Netanyahu and Habura’s meeting took place in the LeTorah Vehora’ah Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, which is considered a bastion of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, whose leader Arye Dery said he would back Netanyahu to form the next government. Nevertheless, Shas leaders were furious over Netanyahu’s unusual visit.

Habura asked to meet with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party, before the recording was aired, but the meeting was eventually canceled.

In the recording, Bachar tells an anonymous associate, whose voice is disguised, that Kahol Lavan lawmaker Omer Yankelevich had harshly criticized Gantz.

Bachar’s interlocutor says that Kahol Lavan would “make the wrong decision” and “halt attempts to attack in Iran,” to which Bachar replies: “I know, that’s the man.”

The ultra-Orthodox online news site Kikar Hashabbat was the first to report that Habura was the one with whom Bachar spoke in the leaked tape.

Bachar said in the recording that Yankelevich called the Kahol Lavan leader “stupid and a total loser,” and that he must not be prime minister. Yankelevich categorically denied the remarks.

“The distorted statements that were allegedly attributed to me, by the means of distorting secret recordings of adviser Bachar, are a sad expression of taking things out of contexts and distorting what is said, which is the legacy of Netanyahu and his people to the Israeli society,” she said, adding that she was proud to serve in a party with a leader that allows its members to make their opinions and criticism heard.

Gantz said that Bachar was the victim of planned ambush that included “personal exploitation, the use of improper means and fraud,” and he will take legal action on the matter. He added that the recording was edited to serve the interests of those whose goal is to keep Netanyahu in power. “The manipulative involvement of political players will also be revealed soon,” he said.

After he was fired, Bachar said that “the incident reported is part of a campaign of fraud and an attempt to deceive, which reached a new height of disgrace.”

Bachar served as the strategic adviser for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett before taking the job in Kahol Lavan’s election campaigns last April and September. In an interview with Channel 13 ahead of the April 9 election, Bachar said he believed that leaks of private conversations caused Kahol Lavan “to lose two to three Knesset seats.”

Likud said in a statement: “This was a public visit that was documented from beginning to end, with the participation of hundreds of students and dozens of rabbis, as part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to lower the voter turnout for [Kahanist party leader] Itamar Ben-Gvir.”