Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: TWITTER / TAL SCHNEIDER)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) responded on Sunday to a report that Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly offered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negative coverage of Bennett in exchange for a bill to weaken competing newspaper Israel Hayom.
“It’s very unpleasant to understand that the prime minister is turning to a publisher to request a series of articles against Bayit Yehudi,” Bennett told Army Radio on Sunday. “In real time I did not understand where all these articles [came from], and now this closes the circle.
“The prime minister does not need to order a series of articles from a newspaper publisher against one of the parties,” he said. “True, it’s unpleasant. I know the police are now checking the entire matter, and I definitely would love to receive the information.”
Responding to Bennett’s comments, the Likud Party attacked the education minister in a statement on Monday, accusing him of “hypocrisy” for “working to close an Israeli newspaper and receiving fond coverage in Yediot Aharonot and Ynet, which continues today,” while “preaching morality to the prime minister.”
According to the report in Haaretz on Thursday, Netanyahu complained to Mozes in 2014 that coverage of 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.
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, then economy minister, 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 Haaretz report also stated that the investigation of Case 2000 – and the separate Case 1000, regarding 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.