Editorial

If the Netanyahu Recordings Aren’t Bribery, What Is?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Palmachim military base, October 27, 2019.
Mark Israel Sellem

When you listen to the recordings revealed Saturday on the television program “Hamakor” – in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes discuss trading favorable press coverage for customized legislation – you gain insight into the cynical, corrupt-to-the-core world at the top of Israel’s elites in both government and journalism.

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In these conversations there was no mention of cash-filled envelopes, nor were there any promises to funnel funds through obscure bank accounts. But on the table throughout were benefits worth millions of shekels in exchange for sympathetic, or at least less critical, coverage. The public is left to ask: If this isn’t bribery, what is?

The recordings leave no room for doubt. Yedioth’s publisher was pushing for the deal that would save his outfit from the economic damage being done by Israel Hayom, the free daily published by the prime minister’s patron, Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile, the prime minister promised that in return for favorable coverage, he would pass a law benefiting Yedioth financially.

In the recordings, Netanyahu is revealed as a player who really is in his own league, demonstrating a high level of sophistication and manipulation and a complete lack of red lines. The man who regularly incites against the Israeli media and accuses it of being biased is heard doing everything in his power to tilt that bias in his favor. With a tone that wouldn’t embarrass an arch-mafiosi, the prime minister is heard threatening Mozes, saying, “If you take me down, I’ll come after you with everything I’ve got …. It will become my life’s mission.”

Netanyahu also treats the legislative branch as if it were a channel for advancing his personal interests, not a basic democratic tool of government meant to be concerned with the country’s citizens. Netanyahu was discussing possible legislation adapted to the business needs of someone who could threaten his rule with negative press coverage.

The public also got to hear Yedioth’s publisher boast of his ability to “manage the journalists” – that is, to slant his paper’s coverage. Mozes, as he said, in is desire to save the life’s work of three generations, trampled on the public’s faith in the media outlet he’s responsible for and indirectly the public’s faith in the media as a whole. The debauching of journalism, as expressed by the publisher of “the country’s newspaper,” should terrify anyone who sees a free and responsible press as a necessary part of conducting a democratic life in Israel.

For two years the country has been held hostage by what sounds and looks like a criminal network of crony capitalism. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must put an end to this saga.

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