Netanyahu Planned Smear Campaign Against Naftali Bennett in 2013 Election

According to a report, Walla owner Shaul Elovitch passed on messages from a Netanyahu associate to Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, and the three cooperated to undermine Bennett

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FILE PHOTO: Netanyahu sits with Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
FILE PHOTO: Netanyahu sits with Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.Credit: Abir Sultan,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to smear his political rival and sometimes-ally Naftali Bennett during the 2013 election campaign with articles on the Walla news website, Israel Television News reported Monday.

According to the report, Walla owner Shaul Elovitch passed on messages from a Netanyahu associate, Zeev Rubinstein, to Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, and that the three cooperated to undermine Bennett.

Police recently recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery for allegedly having conferred regulatory benefits on Walla’s parent, the Bezeq telecommunications company, in exchange for favorable coverage by the site.

The television report cited correspondence between Elovitch and Yeshua over details of plan. In one exchange, Elovitch asked Yeshua to give prominence to a quote in which left-wing social activist Eldad Yaniv said he was a friend of Bennett. Yeshua replied, “Not today, because there have already been three [items] against him; it’s unreasonable.”

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There were also exchanges about Bennett’s wife, Gilat Bennett, and her work as a chef at a nonkosher restaurant, as well as an effort to portray Bennett’s father as having tried to harm former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

On January 18, 2013, the TV report said, Yeshua wrote Elovitch, “I’ll deal with the rest tomorrow. It’s insanely sensitive; we don’t want to trip everyone up, including [Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu]. “We have to do this gradually, cleverly, or it will blow up in our faces.”

Elovitch replied that he explained to Rubinstein that “it’s impossible to do it all at once, and it’s dangerous. He understood, but he’s under pressure from the duo.”

Yeshua responded that he was “working on it,” and Elovitch warned, “Don’t take any risks.”

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On January 19, 2013, the report said, Yeshua warned Elovitch that if there were too many negative items about Bennett, the Netanyahus “will hurt themselves and us terribly. I‘m protecting them here.

“Yesterday’s headline, with the big picture of Bibi, we left up until 11 A.M., with enormous impact,” and Bennett’s campaign staff “raged at us,” he continued. The Netanyahus “are getting an unprecedented tailwind here.”

In another exchange, Yeshua complained, “It’s impossible to edit the site from moment to moment like this. We’re a second away from a mass resignation by the senior editorial staff and their going public with this.” That would cause “colossal damage” to the Netanyahus “and irreversible damage to us,” he added.

Responding to the allegations in the TV report, Bennett said: “Everything I have in the world I got from my father, the late James Bennett, who was a goodhearted man and an idealist, and from my mother Myrna. They left a comfortable life in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel out of Zionism. Any attempt to harm my father and my family is immoral and must simply stop.

“As for the substance of the ‘accusation’: At the time of the Oslo Accords, my father, a proud man of the right, was very pained that parts of our land were being handed over to [Yasser] Arafat and participated in many demonstrations against this move. All the rest is a complete lie,” Bennett added.

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