Media Quid-pro-quo Affair: 'The Goal Was to Portray Netanyahu as a Great Leader'

Sara Netanyahu to be questioned in case involving alleged 'sweetheart' coverage for the PM on Israeli news website

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah visit the Memorial for the 1972 Isareli Olympic players in Munich, Germany February 18, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom GPO

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may be questioned in the so-called "Case 4000" after she boasted of skewed, "sweetheart" coverage on the Walla news site, Channel 10 News reported on Sunday.

Case 4000 involves alleged quid-pro-quo relationship between the prime minister – who also served as telecommunications minister from 2014 to 2017 – and Shaul Elovitch, a wealthy businessman and contronlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant, which owns the news website Walla, Channel 10 News reported on Sunday.

The investigators want to question Sara Netanyahu after discovering materials and correspondence indicating that she was involved in arranging favorable coverage of herself and her husband on Walla.

People who did and do work for the Walla news website have been wondering why "Case 4000" is only picking up steam now, following reports Sunday that police arrested and questioned both government officials and Bezeq executives. 

While serving as telecoms minister from 2014 to 2017, concurrent with his post as prime minister, allegations say Netanyahu was intervening with regulators on behalf of Bezeq. In exchange, Elovitch, a long-time friend of Netanyahu’s, allegedly ordered Walla reporters to skew their coverage of the prime minister and Sara favorably. Even before however, mainly ahead of the 2013 election, coverage on Walla was reportedly being skewed in Netanyahu's favor.

It was the CEO of Walla at the time, Ilan Yeshua, who allegedly handed down instructions to cover the Netanyahus in such fashion. As reported by Haaretz's Gidi Weitz, Yeshua told employees that he was under pressure from above. "Big things are happening. We mustn't get in the way," Yeshua was quoted in the Haaretz report.

Later, following the revelation of the friendship between Netanyahu and Elovitch, attorney-general Avichai Mendelblit ordered the prime minister to steer clear of any matter involving Bezeq.

Sara Netanyahu, herself or through proxies, allegedly dabbled in Walla's coverage of herself and the prime minister. From 2013, she reportedly treated the site as a platform to plant the family's messages without constraint.

When Walla's name came up as she was talking with people about critical coverage of her, she allegedly said, "There's no problem on Walla. On Walla, we're fixed up."

"Sometimes we had to upload items dictated to us from A to Z from above, without asking questions," a former senior employee at Walla says.

The managerial meddling in the news items wasn't just about gossip items, but reached politics as well, the source said. "The goal was to portray Netanyahu as a great leader and prevent criticism of him. But we were just as heavily engaged in subjects involving Sara Netanyahu – gossip items and the like, showing images of the prime minister's wife," the source said.

Netanyahu also influenced Walla's editorial line on economic matters such as coverage of a gas deal led by Netanyahu. Criticism of it was deleted from the site.

The alleged collaboration between Netanyahu and Elovitch may not have been confined to Walla, but may have reached television as well. Elovitch also controls the Yes satellite TV company, which has ceaselessly been pressing to get permission to launch a news channel. None other than Walla was slated to produce the news channel, using its own studios.

Yet another possibility that had been discussed was for Walla to start printing a daily newspaper. Walla CEO Yeshua talked with Eitan Madmon, former CEO of the Globes business daily, about the possibility that Walla produce a daily supplement including subjects such as news, culture and sports, that would be distributed with Globes. This supplement was theoretically expected to expand and become a sort of free newspaper. However, after a public uproar and a protest by Globes employees, nothing came of the notion.

A source on behalf of the prime minister commented that none of this is true: "The wide of the prime minister never said these things and never took the actions as you write. This is another transparent attempt to damage the prime minister through lies about his wife. The simple truth is that the prime minister did not act on behalf of Elovitch or Bezeq, not for positive coverage and not for anything else. As was said about all the other cases, which are now turning out to be hot air: nothing will happen because nothing happened."