Likud minister, ex-Yediot editor questioned in Netanyahu probe

It was reported that Netanyahu discussed reducing Israel Hayom’s distribution by one-third in a hypothetical Knesset bill, as part of negotiations over Yediot Aharonot’s coverage of Netanyahu.

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January 19, 2017 14:52
2 minute read.
COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l

COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin and former Ynet chief editor Eran Tiefenbrunn appeared before police on Thursday to give testimony regarding the prime minister’s criminal investigations.

Case 2000 stems from recordings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes in which the two men allegedly negotiated an attempt to weaken Yediot competitor Israel Hayom in exchange for favorable coverage of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying the probe is the product of “an orchestrated media attack” designed to bring down the Likud-led government.

Elkin, a Netanyahu confidant, was chairman of the previous Likud-led coalition when the “Israel Hayom bill,” which would have prohibited the paper’s free distribution model, was being advanced in late 2014.

The bill initiated by Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who also gave testimony in the investigation, never became law, as Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, ending the legislation’s progress, two weeks after it was proposed.Both Tiefenbrunn, editor-in-chief of Ynet, Yediot Aharonot’s sister website, and Yediot Aharonot editor-in-chief Ron Yaron were reportedly mentioned by Netanyahu and Mozes during their alleged conversations on “turning the ship” of Yediot’s coverage of Netanyahu.

According to Channel 2 last week, in 2014, Netanyahu told Mozes 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 – we need to ensure that you will be prime minister.”

On Thursday, State Attorney Shai Nitzan gave a robust defense in a speech at an Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat of his and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decisions in the handling of the case.

He said both of them and the legal establishment are “color blind” when it comes to the party-affiliation of public officials, and all allegations that they are on a “political crusade” against Netanyahu are blatantly false. Nitzan cited examples of investigating politicians on all sides of the spectrum and of being attacked from all sides as evidence.

Nitzan also explained in greater detail than ever before what the standards are that he and Mandelblit use to determine when to open a preliminary review regarding allegations against elected officials and when to move from that stage to a full criminal investigation.


Finally, Nitzan said there were even some cases where public officials were investigated because of the power they possess or their impact on public morality, where ordinary citizens would not have been probed at all.

He used this example to deflect allegations that Netanyahu has gotten special treatment because of being prime minister or because Mandelblit worked for Netanyahu as cabinet secretary in the past.

Until now most of the criticism has focused on Mandelblit, but a full-throated defense from Nitzan shows a move to close ranks behind Mandelblit.

Mandelblit is to speak at the Eilat conference on Friday.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is being investigated for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from billionaires. Both Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and son Yair have given testimony to police.

While Yair is not a suspect, police reportedly suspect Australian billionaire James Packer of giving Yair gifts, including free hotel rooms and flights, in order to influence the elder Netanyahu. Allegations that Sara and the prime minister received large amounts of champagne and cigars, in an illegal manner, from Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan are also included in the case.

Packer, a friend of the Netanyahu family, also faces a police probe into his relationship with Mossad director Yossi Cohen

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