Editorial

Investigate Netanyahu's Involvement in Communications Giant Bezeq Misconduct

It's difficult to comprehend why Netanyahu has not yet been questioned in matters he's so clearly associated with

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on November 7, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on November 7, 2017. ARIEL SCHALIT/AFP

Last week the Israel Securities Authority recommended the prosecution of Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and CEO Stella Handler, Yes Satellite Services CEO Ron Eilon and Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber (now suspended), in addition to other Bezeq executives. Prosecutors believe Bezeq officials illegally paid Elovitch 170 million shekels ($40 million) as part of Bezeq’s acquisition of Elovitch’s stake in Yes.

The simple part of this affair is the actions taken by figures in Bezeq in behalf of the controlling shareholder while committing fraud, allegedly. The more complex part relates to Filber’s role in the matter, and even more so to the absence from the list of suspects the communications minister during part of the relevant period: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Israel Securities Authority, Filber advanced Bezeq’s interests at the ministry in violation of both the criminal code and the Securities Law. Filber promoted Bezeq’s interests while concealing this fact from professionals echelons in his own department. He allegedly systematically transferred classified documents to Bezeq, as well as internal position papers and correspondence between various ministries, including some which had not been discussed yet in authorized forums.

The announcement issued by the securities agency paints a picture in which Filber was in fact working for Bezeq. What is missing here is the motive. Was Filber casting his bread upon the water in order to benefit from his ties to Elovitch in the future or did he act at the behest of his master, Netanyahu, promoting Bezeq’s interests out of a sense of loyalty?

Netanyahu has ties of friendship with Elovitch but he refrained from reporting this when he became communications minister. In the wake of an investigative report by Gidi Weitz in Haaretz these ties were revealed. They included giving Netanyahu positive coverage on the Walla news website, which is owned by Bezeq. This fact forced Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to bar Netanyahu from dealing with issues relating to Bezeq. But this step was taken only after the Ministry of Communications had already benefited Bezeq. The State Comptroller wrote about this in his report from July 2017, stating that the ministry’s conduct attested to regulatory weakness and was incompatible with its role as a guardian of the public’s interests.

Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to comprehend why Netanyahu has not yet been questioned in regard to this affair. He is not lacking for other investigations but in this case both the Israel Securities Authority and the State Comptroller’s reports leave no room for doubt: Netanyahu’s involvement in the Bezeq affair must be investigated.

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