Darkening Clouds of Suspicion Against Netanyahu

Ayoub Kara and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 13, 2017.
Yitzhak Harari / Knesset Spokesperson

From the recordings broadcast by Channel 13 News it clearly emerges that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to deal with the communications market even after he resigned as communications minister. The resignation came in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by the opposition leader at the time, Isaac Herzog; Herzog justifiably claimed that Netanyahu couldn’t serve as communications minister when the police were investigating his actions in that capacity.

Netanyahu, who resigned as communications minister before the court heard the petition, can be heard on the recordings instructing the minister who replaced him, Ayoub Kara, how to act. So while on paper Netanyahu resigned, he was actually still pulling the strings.

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Even worse, in the recordings one can hear Netanyahu intervening in issues that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had forbidden him to address because of conflicts of interest. First we hear Netanyahu urging Kara to dissolve the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council and even to abolish it. The council oversees Yes, the broadcasting company that was then controlled by Shaul Elovitch.

This was problematic: The consultations between Netanyahu, Kara and another senior Likud official took place while the police were investigating the ties between the prime minister and Elovitch. When the investigation was launched, Mendelblit banned Netanyahu from handling matters relating to Elovitch.

Listening to the conversation between Netanyahu and Kara, Netanyahu appears to violate this ban. Although the council was not dissolved, the fact that Netanyahu even tried, through Kara, to abolish the council that supervises Elovitch’s company could be a conflict of interest that must be examined.

Another thing must be looked into. After an investigation was launched into Netanyahu’s relationship with tycoon Arnon Milchan, then a shareholder in Channel 10, Mendelblit imposed another series of restrictions on Netanyahu, including a ban on handling issues that could affect Milchan or a competitor, Channel 2. In the recordings one can hear Netanyahu discussing a bill designed to save Channel 20; Netanyahu encourages Kara and the other senior official to include a clause that would end the ban on foreigners owning more than 49 percent of a television station. This clause (which was approved in early 2018) directly affected the entities that Netanyahu was forbidden to deal with.

The recordings provide more evidence that Netanyahu scoffs at the law and does with the state as he sees fit. Mendelblit must order a speedy inquiry – before the election – into whether the prime minister violated the conflict-of-interest agreement he signed. He must also impose a sweeping ban on Netanyahu handling anything relating to the media market until things are clarified.

Netanyahu’s hearing on the indictments pending against him is due to take place two weeks after the election. A country can’t function when so many question marks are accumulating about its prime minister.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.