At 1:36 P.M. on March 17, 2015, a senior Israeli journalist fielded a phone call. “I’m transferring the prime minister,” the voice on the other end told him. “Hello, Mr. Netanyahu,” the reporter began.
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“I want to tell you that what’s happening today is election stealing,” Benjamin Netanyahu thundered. “Nothing like this has ever happened in any democracy anywhere. Because you’re in the press, you didn’t report on this scandal here. I’m about to lose the election.”
The astonished reporter asked the prime minister what he was talking about and added, “You’re [going to be] the next prime minister.”
“I'm not,” Netanyahu answered. “The V15 movement, backed by the American administration, brought software programs here . You know what I'm talking about. I don’t want to elaborate over the phone, okay? Super-software that locates voters.”
The reporter had no idea what software the prime minister was alluding to. He also sensed paranoia in Netanyahu’s next remarks about a global conspiracy to topple him that included Washington, espionage agencies, the V15 movement that sought to unseat him, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and the Israeli media.
“What do you suggest I do with this information?” the journalist asked. “The vote is today.”
“I want you to know that this is what happened,” Netanyahu said, ending the conversation by making an accusation in the plural. “You won’t touch it. You aren’t handling [the story.] That's why I'm going to lose the election.”
That night, Netanyahu learned that his foreboding had been in vain and his forecasts were wrong. He would have no trouble cobbling together his fourth governing coalition.
At the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, hundreds of Likud members shouted chants against Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and no Netanyahu fan.
Mozes had used all his media artillery in the hope that Netanyahu would be replaced. In fact, that night Mozes' name was voiced a lot more than Netanyahu's rival, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
Mozes was marked as the enemy who had been vanquished. Likud supporters passing by the reporters’ table at the event made rude gestures at the Yedioth reporter there, Yuval Karni, while gloating about Mozes’ defeat.
A leading Likud member who knows Netanyahu well and witnessed the events that night told Haaretz that the 30 seats Likud achieved that day in the 120-seat Knesset were a turning point.
“You have to understand, the man was bracing for a loss. After the election, he got it into his head that he had won on his own, that he had vanquished Mozes and the entire media establishment. The goal he set himself after the election was to change the balance, to gain control of the business," the Likud member said.
"Now he’s set his sights on commercial television in Israel. He told us explicitly: I already handled the print media when Israel Hayom was founded," he added, referring to the free daily published by Sheldon Adelson.
"Now it’s time to change television. The barrier of his fear of the media, which accompanied him for years, has been broken.”
The investigation by Gidi Weitz and Nati Tucker which will appear in Haaretz's weekend edition reveals: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engages obsessively with the media and is paranoid. His goal is to achieve control over all the branches of media, and to weaken it - from the managers fielded phoned rebukes from him in the middle of the night, to regular briefings of all the panelists on Channel 2 television, to his implied threat against the publisher of a newspaper.
In response to the allegations, those close to the prime minister stated, among other things, "The list of lies and twisted smears you ascribe to Prime Minister Netanyahu just proves again the degree to which your newspaper is biased and prejudiced against him and the degree to which you distort reality. It does not surprise us. For years Haaretz has been the newspaper besmirching the IDF and Israel to the world, and which does not represent even a tiny fraction of the range of opinions held by the broad Israeli public. It is no wonder that the broad Israeli public has lost its faith in you. We can only hope that the fact that the German media concern Dumont Schauberg, which engaged in disseminating Nazi propaganda during World War II and bought 20% of the shares in Haaretz, has nothing to do with this spirit."