Late-night Phone Logs Suggest Netanyahu Influenced Headlines in Israel's Most-read Paper

Netanyahu spoke with editor of Adelson-owned paper almost daily during 2013 election, often close to deadline, records show; headlines reflected Netanyahu's positions

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
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Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu at the naming of a faculty after Adelson at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, 2016.
Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu at the naming of a faculty after Adelson at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, 2016. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday disclosed the record of his phone calls with the publisher of Israel Hayom, U.S. businessman and Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson, and the paper's editor-in-chief, Amos Regev.

Netanyahu gave the records to Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 News in order to comply with a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court issued in August.

Drucker matched up the dates of calls with the top headlines in Israel Hayom, Israel's most-read paper, the day after the calls, and found they correlated with political messages that Netanyahu may have sought to convey.

During the campaign for the Israeli general election in 2013, for example, Netanyahu spoke with Regev 15 times in 19 days, in other words almost daily. According to Drucker, some of these calls took place late at night, in the hours before the paper's news pages were sent to print. On Election Day itself, Netanyahu, Regev and Adelson spoke a number of times.

Some of the headlines that appeared in Israel Hayom during the campaign had to do with the Habayit Hayehudi party ("Habayit Hayehudi is anti-women"), while others bad-mouthed Shimon Peres ("The president will do everything possible to tap the left to form the new government"), former army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi ("Conduct unbecoming") and then-U.S. President Barack Obama ("Trying to interfere in the election").

In the days following the calls between Netanyahu and Regev, the newspaper featured additional headlines matching the prime minister's messages. When Netanyahu sought to addressed the joint houses of the U.S. Congress to lobby against the nuclear agreement with Iran, whose approval Obama sought, the main headline in the paper the day after Netanyahu and Regev spoke was "Netanyahu tells Obama: Israelis will decide".

In 2014, on the day after the Knesset passed the so-called Israel Hayom bill, which later led to the collapse of the government, Netanyahu and Adelson held three separate phone conversations around 1 A.M. Israel time. During the coalition crisis, the prime minister spoke with Regev, and a headline the next day addressed the position of Shas Chairman Arye Dery in a way that matched Netanyahu's own stance. The rival tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth ran a headline that was the complete opposite.

In the days following conversations between Netanyahu and Regev, one headline in Israel Hayom regarding a police deposition by a driver for the Netanyahus supported the position of Sara Netanyahu in the police investigation against her.

The phone records were published after a two-year legal battle waged by Drucker and Channel 10 News. Last week Netanyahu addressed the issue in a Facebook post, writing that he was a friend of Adelson and that his conversations with Regev were no different than conversations held by any politician with editors and publishers. The full list of the phone calls and their dates will be published later.

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