Parts of a 2014 conversation in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly conspires with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes to weaken rival paper Israel Hayom in exchange for favorable coverage of the prime minister were released by Channel 2 on Friday and Saturday.
Netanyahu sought journalists who would cover him in a good light as well as an agreement with US billionaire and Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson over weakening the paper, Channel 2 reported.
In 2014, Netanyahu told Mozes to recruit journalists who would “lower their level of hostility toward him from 9.5 to 7.5,” to which Mozes responded, “I get it. Don’t worry about it – we need to ensure that you will be prime minister,” according to the report.
Netanyahu told Mozes that he would have liked journalist Haggai Segal to be recruited to Yediot, but that he was unavailable because “Sheldon [Adelson] took him for [the Netanyahu-friendly] Makor Rishon,” the report continued.
“Every day I have one that kills me,” the prime minister reportedly said, referring to opinion pieces by Yediot columnist and Channel 2 reporter Amnon Abramovich.
Netanyahu later asked that Mozes make Abramovich “balanced,” Channel 2 reported.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
Police are expected to question Mozes on Sunday, and Netanyahu for a third time sometime this week.
Police are investigating Netanyahu regarding allegations that he and Mozes sought to conspire to weaken Israel Hayom.
“What’s the bottom line? How can we do this quickly?” Mozes said according to a Channel 2 report on Friday.
“We can legislate it,” Netanyahu is said to have responded, allegedly referring to the so-called Israel Hayom bill.
In 2014, Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel initiated the bill, which sought to ban free newspapers, including Israel Hayom. Two weeks after the legislation passed in preliminary reading, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, ending the bill’s progress.
The prime minister and Mozes, in their recorded conversation, reportedly referenced Cabel, who was questioned by police last week regarding the case.
On Saturday night, Cabel denied that there was any connection between his bill and the plans Mozes and Netanyahu were devising.
“When I submitted the Israel Hayom bill, I didn’t know Noni Mozes,” Cabel told Channel 2. “I knew the whole time that I needed to protect myself carefully since I would be exposed to attacks...
“I’m not part of this rotten story; I have no dealings with Netanyahu,” Cabel said.
In transcripts of the conversation leaked on Friday, Netanyahu allegedly said that he would ask Adelson, whom he referred to as “the gingy,” or redhead, if such a bill were acceptable to him.
“I want to speak with the gingy [Adelson]; he’ll be in Israel in two weeks,” Netanyahu reportedly said, with Mozes responding, “We need to see how to do something he can live with, maybe a different bill. I want to make it easier, not more difficult.”
Netanyahu also reportedly told Mozes in their alleged 2014 meetings that he would mediate between Mozes and several German businessmen, who could invest in Yediot Aharonot.
In addition, Channel 2 reported that the two discussed the “issue of volume,” seemingly referring to limiting the distribution of Israel Hayom, which a few years ago passed Yediot to become the nation’s highest-circulation newspaper.
The police reportedly obtained the audio recordings when they searched the cellphone and computer of Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow, who was questioned in July.
Meanwhile on Saturday, lawmakers publicly slammed Netanyahu following the latest reports.
MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) took to social media to criticize the prime minister, posting on Facebook that “Netanyahu is holding onto his position out of a passion for power and [because of] the perks the role brings with it, but not in order to use his power for the benefit of the country.”
She called Netanyahu “the first Israeli prime minister of the mafia,” adding that “this is why he has decided to run over all the mechanisms that might rein in his power or expose its injustices to the public.”
Criticism of the prime minister was not limited to the opposition.
Likud MK David Bitan, a confidant of Netanyahu, said in an interview with Channel 10 on Friday that “after the investigation ends, Netanyahu will have to give up his role as communications minister.”
The prime minister also holds the Foreign Affairs and Communications portfolios.
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said: “The attorney-general has to make the decision whether to file a bill of indictment that will demand the prompt publication of the full transcript.
On a public level, this is a very grave thing. [Avichai] Mandelblit has to decide now so that we know what happened.
There’s a risk here that the public will lose faith in the government and in the media.”
Another Yesh Atid MK, Meir Cohen, said, “This is the first time since this government has been established that you can feel new elections in the air.
I’m getting this feeling from Likud MKs – they’re telling me, ‘We have the sense that this is the end.’” This is “one of the gravest affairs to have happened in the State of Israel,” Cohen said.
Joy Bernard and Arik Bender contributed to this report.