Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair Netanyahu was recorded telling the son of Israeli businessman and gas tycoon Kobi Maimon outside a strip club that the prime minister set up $20 billion for the latter's father, according to a report on Israel Television News Company Monday.
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“My dad set up 20 billion dollars for your dad, and you’re fighting with me about 400 shekels [about $115]?” said Yair in the 2015 recording of the conversation with his friend, upon leaving the strip club. Netanyahu later said the 400 shekels was for a prostitute.
The 2015 conversation was with the son of Kobi Maimon, a real estate mogul and a shareholder in Isramco, which owns Israel's offshore Tamar gas fields. Also present was Roman Abramov, the Israeli liaison of Australian billionaire James Packer.
According to the report, the two ended up at Packer's apartment at the Royal Beach hotel in Tel Aviv. A state-funded security guard and driver accompanied Netanyahu and his friends from one strip club to another.
A lawyer for Netanyahu's family on Monday demanded the Israel Television News Company not air the tape in which Yair was heard talking to his friends outside a strip club.
"Tonight I watched a disgraceful, yellow-press report that presented illegal recordings of a conversation that took place two and a half years ago. In a night conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I spoke nonsense about women and other things that were better left unsaid," Yair Netanyahu said in a response issued Monday night.
"These remarks do not reflect who I am, the values on which I was raised and my beliefs. I regret the remarks and apologize if anyone was hurt by them. In addition, the things I said to Maimon were a dumb joke and joking around with him, as anyone could tell. I never took an interest in the natural-gas framework agreement and never had any idea about its details," the statement said.
Sources familiar with the matter said the participants were probably drunk and some of the taped conversation may have been made in jest.
It is unclear what the source of the tape is, yet the Israel Television News Company maintains it aired it legally.
Abramov is a close friend of Netanyahu's. In November, it was reported that he was employed by Packer and earned tens of thousands of shekels a month, despite having no relevant professional experience or academic degree.
In the recording, Abramov said that Maimon gave Netanyahu 400 shekels, which Netanyahu said "was for a prostitute." Netanyahu was later heard suggesting that he "arrange" a meeting for his friends, adding that he took down a stripper's phone number. According to the report, Yair’s mother, Sara Netanyahu, then called him. “My mom’s calling ... how embarrassing,” he said.
The Prime Minister's Office responded that decisions regarding the prime minister’s sons’ security detail are made by a ministerial committee with recommendations by an advisory committee. These decisions “are based on the evaluation of threats, and on the fact that Yair and Avner [Benjamin Netanyahu’s other son] have been recognizable all over the world since they were young.”
The statement further added that the prime minister and his family “have no role in these security arrangements” and they “aren’t privy to the transportation arrangements for the prime minister’s sons, which are also decided upon by security officials.”
Yair Netanyahu receives around-the-clock security from the Prime Minister's Office as well as a car and driver. “The security for [Netanyahu’s] sons, like the security of other figures, is [decided] by a ministerial committee and by a public committee headed by Joseph Ciechanover that examines the entirety of the threats and receives periodic updates about the security situation and the threat situation, and [it] decided that the prime minister’s sons should be protected,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on the subject last week.
The Netanyahu family said that “the prime minister has no connection with Kobi Maimon, whom he met only once, 10 years ago. Prime Minister Netanyahu transferred the gas deal because he wanted to maintain competition for the Tamar gas field, owned by Kobi Maimon. The prime minister did not know anything about the relationship between his son Yair and Kobi Maimon’s son. Yair was in no way involved with the gas deal, and if he spoke about the matter, he obviously did this in jest.”
The statement further said that the Netanyahu family would not comment on "cheap and malicious gossip regarding jokes that were made after a night of drinking, that don’t reflect Yair’s standing and were taken out of context from an illegal wiretap."
In late 2015, the prime minister introduced into the framework agreement with the companies that own and operate Israel's natural-gas fields a clause whose purpose was to circumvent the anti-trust commissioner. Netanyahu removed Arye Dery as economy minister in order to complete the move.
Four petitions were submitted to the High Court of Justice against the controversial stability clause, which was ruled illegal. In the paragraph that the High Court struck down, the government promised not to introduce changes to its taxation policy and export arrangement vis-a-vis the petroleum industry and not to demand additional structural changes to the field for a decade. The framework agreement guaranteed the gas companies and the owners of the Leviathan offshore field immunity from any change to its ownership structure or the need to introduce internal competition for up to 15 years,expropriating the authority of the antitrust commissioner in this matter. The cabinet approved the amended agreement last year.
The latest incident was not the first time that Yair Netanyahu has been at the top of the news cycle in Israel.
Yair, who is involved in a lawsuit against the left-wing think tank Molad, arrived 45 minutes late to an arbitration meeting with representatives of the organization last week. When rebuked for his tardiness, he cursed Molad’s staff and walked out, according to a Facebook post by Sani Arazi, one of think tank’s representatives.
In September, Yair posted an image on his Facebook page suggesting a conspiracy was behind his family’s growing legal problems. The meme, laden with anti-Semitic imagery, was then tweeted by former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Kaln David Duke, and picked up by the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer in an article entitled "Netanyahu's Son Posts Awesome Meme Blaming the Jews for Bringing Down his Jew Father."