Netanyahu and Bennett.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly offered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negative coverage of his political opponents in exchange for a bill to weaken competing newspaper Israel Hayom, Haaretz reported on Thursday.
According to the report, Netanyahu complained to Mozes in 2014 that coverage of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon “wraps them in cotton wool.” He also reportedly told Mozes that he wanted to suppress the size of Bayit Yehudi in the March 2015 Knesset election.
A police spokesman for the Intelligence and Investigations Division did not reply to a request for comment on the report.
Mozes is said to have responded to Netanyahu’s request by highlighting a negative headline of Bennett.
According to the report, it was likely a December 2014 article criticizing Bennett over a lack of preschool centers being built that the publisher showed Netanyahu.
The article’s author, former Ynet writer Avital Lahav, told Channel 2 on Friday, “It was clear to me that they were trying to hurt Bennett,” referring to editors of Yediot Aharonot’s website Ynet.
Lahav denied any motivation for attacking Bennett, but accused “someone of [sitting] on [the article] for a reason. He wanted to use it as a weapon.”
The conversation between the media baron and the prime minister – which comprises the criminal investigation of “Case 2000” – was recorded. It is alleged that Mozes and Netanyahu were heard conspiring to weaken Israel Hayom
, which is owned by the premier’s confidant, US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Mozes and Netanyahu have denied wrongdoing in the case, with the premier often repeating, “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
The report also stated that the investigation of Case 2000 – and the separate Case 1000, which regards allegations that the premier accepted illegal gifts from billionaires – is expected to continue for many more weeks.
That appears to contradict a statement by Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich earlier this month that the investigation was in the “final stages” and would soon be completed.
According to previous leaks of the recorded conversation, Netanyahu in January sought journalists who would cover him in a good light in exchange for pushing a 2014 bill to end free distribution of Israel Hayom. Netanyahu reportedly told the media mogul to “lower the level of hostility toward him from 9.5 to 7.5,” to which Mozes responded, “I get it. Don’t worry about it.”