The amended indictment against Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 4000 (the Bezeq-Walla case) is a hair-raising document that details no fewer than 230 demands by the prime minister and members of his immediate family for more favorable coverage from the Walla news website – 150 of them by Netanyahu himself, either directly or via an intermediary. It shows yet again how Walla became a propaganda tool for Netanyahu in the guise of an independent media outlet.
Last week the Jerusalem District Court accepted the arguments of the prime minister’s lawyers and instructed the prosecution to revise the indictment so that it differentiates between the requests made by Netanyahu himself and those made by members of his family. His lawyers sought to reduce Netanyahu’s involvement in the alleged interference and establish doubt regarding his knowledge of the events.
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But the revised indictment shows that despite the attempt – cowardly in and of itself – to distance himself from his wife and son, Netanyahu knew full well that Sara and Yair were, in a systematic manner, demanding that Walla bias its coverage. From the corrected indictment it emerges that he knew about their requests from Walla. From this it follows that Walla’s fulfillment of the requests of Sara and Yair constitutes the extension of favors to the prime minister himself.
The description of the transactions in the “Give me” column of Netanyahu’s spreadsheet tabulating his alleged quid pro quo with Shaul Elovitch, who controlled both Bezeq and Walla, reveals the scope of their alleged corrupt activities. The indictment states that 197 of the Netanyahus’ requests were met. Moreover, the alleged influence was so pervasive that in 85 instances the website altered its coverage without even being asked. This is similar to government censorship that leads organizations that are subject to supervision or persecution to censor themselves.
We must not fall into the trap being laid by Netanyahu and his lawyers, who are trying to portray the relationship between the Netanyahu family and Walla as completely ordinary, as standard requests by a spokesperson or a PR firm, as the normal relationship between a prime minister and a media outlet. There is nothing ordinary about the relationship between the Netanyahus and Walla described in the indictment.
The attempt to focus on the charges at such close range in an effort to melt away each one ignores the bigger picture that the amended indictment only reinforces: Walla skewed its coverage of Netanyahu and his family and was susceptible to their influence in exchange for reward. The alleged reward was the advancement and subsequent approval of the merger of Bezeq and the Yes satellite television provider by then-Communications Minister Netanyahu, which yielded substantial financial benefit to Elovitch.
The changes the prosecution made to the indictment only confirm that the bribery charge is well grounded, and should make it easier for the court to reach that conclusion.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.