Why Did Netanyahu's Office Order Labor MK's Phone Disconnected?

MK Eitan Cabel redirects calls from his office to the PMO after Israel Hayom paper publishes his phone number; PMO sends technician to Cabel's office to disconnect the automatic redirect service.

Oren Nahshon

A heated dispute between MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and the Prime Minister’s Office erupted last week over his proposed bill calling for an end to the free distribution of daily newspaper Israel Hayom.

The incident started when the freebie newspaper – widely seen as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – published Cabel’s phone number so readers could call to complain.

Cabel then activated a “redirect” phone option, sending irate callers to the Prime Minister’s Office. That bureau then instructed Knesset technicians to go to Cabel’s office and disconnect the service.

On Thursday, a technician failed to deactivate Cabel’s redirect service and called in the Teldor communications company, which supports the Knesset’s phones. By coincidence, the company was established by Asher Baharav, who is currently the publisher of Israel Hayom.

Baharav left Teldor 10 years ago, but that did not stop Cabel from wondering about the connection between the newspaper and the deactivation of the redirect service. “This requires immediate investigation,” he wrote to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Baharav dismissed Cabel’s claims out of hand, but refused to be interviewed. His associates referred to these assertions as laughable, stating that Baharav has had no contact with the company for a decade. Sources in the Knesset emphasized that Teldor was summoned in good faith, with no external agent involved.

“Teldor operated under the guidelines of a Knesset technician, not the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Knesset officials who had looked into the incident.

“No senior Knesset member knew of the affair or was involved. Following the incident, the Knesset director general instructed that all future operation of such services would require technicians to check the target of the redirected calls.” Teldor could not be reached for comment.

However, sources in Netanyahu’s office confirmed that they had contacted technicians at the Knesset, asking them to go to Cabel’s office. “We did so due to disruptions in our work following his actions.”

Cabel was furious that they had contacted Knesset technicians. He asked Edelstein to intervene.

“I ask you to convey a clear message to the prime minister and his bureau, stating that in Israel there is a separation between branches of government, so that the executive branch cannot issue instructions to workers at the legislative branch, asking them to break into an MK’s office and tamper with his phone,” he wrote.

The Israel Hayom bill will come to a vote in the Knesset on Wednesday. It is slated to appear at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation at today’s cabinet meeting. Even if it is not approved there, the Knesset will vote on it later this week. Coalition sources believe that most coalition members will support the bill, even if the ministerial committee tries to impose a “no” vote on them.

In order to avoid losing the vote, Haaretz has learned that Likud will try for a maneuver that will allow MKs a free vote so that if the bill passes, it won’t appear that the government lost. After the first reading, the bill will pass to a Knesset committee headed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), which will probably lead to its demise.