Fifteen years ago, Israel’s Media Watch honored journalist Yoav Yitzchak with the Israeli Prize for Media Criticism. Yitzchak is one of Israel’s most responsible and successful investigative journalists.
Yitzchak was the journalist who revealed that president Ezer Weizmann, while he was a member of Knesset and minister in the Israeli government, received large sums of money from businessman Edward Sarussy and did not report them. After an investigation by the attorney general, Weizmann resigned.
Perhaps his most successful investigative effort concerned former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Yitzchak was the first to expose, in July 2008, that Olmert had received a bribe from the developers of the Holyland project in Jerusalem. His first exposes regarding Olmert came in 2005. In their wake he had to leave his job as a reporter for the daily newspaper Ma’ariv, and the Israeli government stopped advertising on his online news site, “News 1.” The end of the story is known: Olmert was found guilty and it is only the Supreme Court, which is delaying its decision on Olmert’s appeal, which is keeping him out of jail.
Yitzchak is also the journalist who accused the late deputy police commissioner and chief detective Ephraim Bracha of criminal conduct. Yitzchak’s headlines and news columns on his News 1 website regarding Bracha were harsh.
For example, on May 30, Yitzchak’s headline screamed: “Bracha aided in obstructing a criminal process against Galili while both Bracha and Galili were represented by Fisher.”
The subtitle let us know that “a complaint to the police against Menachem Galili and sons accusing him of attempting to blackmail the mayor of Ashdod was denied under the guise of lack of guilt. The lawyer of the complainants demanded to receive the investigative materials in order to appeal. Bracha became involved, even though this was not his formal duty, and prevented the handing out of the records of the investigation. Galili’s lawyer was Fisher. Bracha was also represented by Fisher. An accident? Oh no, conflict of interest, corruption and bribes.”
Fisher in this case is Ronel Fisher, who has been formally prosecuted on 12 counts and is in detention until the end of the judicial process against him. Another lawyer who was representing Bracha is Ruth David, the former head prosecutor of the Tel Aviv district and later Fisher’s partner in his law firm.
David herself is now under investigation for criminal activity while serving as a justice department prosecutor. Bracha, whose job it was to investigate criminals, had a knack for consorting with shady people.
For many years, his rabbi was Yoshiyahu Pinto, sentenced to jail for bribery. Pinto tried to bribe Bracha in 2012 and nine days later, the latter exposed him to the police.
On July 3, Yitzchak’s headline was “Bracha is a danger to the public.”
The subtitle was: “Attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, who has defended Bracha for a long time, will have to decide in a few days whether to open a criminal investigation against Bracha for obstruction of justice, bribery and fraud and remove him as head of the police fraud squad. If found guilty, Bracha might be sent to prison for many years. The big drama is still ahead of us – the results of the quiet investigation which was opened as a result of the exposés of News 1 will shock the public.”
On July 5, Ephraim Bracha committed suicide.
The shock was indeed large, and the recriminations started flying.
Everyone in the police was full of praise for Bracha, his modesty and honesty. Perhaps naturally, Yoav Yitzchak was accused, either directly or indirectly, of responsibility for Bracha’s death. Gidi Weitz wrote in Haaretz: “The News 1 website held a wild, violent and uninhibited crusade against Bracha.”
The Justice Ministry also joined the chorus by releasing a special communique noting that there was no decision to open up a criminal investigation against Bracha. Specifically, the ministry wrote: “In continuation to the claims of Yoav Yitzchak as though there had been a decision to open a criminal investigation against Officer Bracha, we would like to make it crystal clear that this is an obscene lie, a continuation of Yitzchak’s false reports on this topic.” Yitzchak himself noted, and we were very careful in translating his article, that he never claimed that a decision had been made. He only claimed that a decision would be made soon.
Oded Ben-Ami, in his Channel 2 evening news round-up on Sunday, interviewed Yitzchak. Channel 2’s police correspondent Moshe Nussbaum questioned Yitzchak about Yitzchak’s alleged report that a decision had been made to investigate Bracha. Yitzchak interrupted Nussbaum and did not let him finish his question, noting that he would not allow lies to be further spread about him. Ben-Ami wanted Nussbaum to continue, but Yitzchak, publicly calling Nussbaum a liar, refused, and Ben-Ami took Yitzchak off the air.
In an interview we conducted with Yitzchak on Tuesday, he reiterated his accusation that Nussbaum was a liar. The Channel 2 TV correspondent, he said, had posed a question to the Justice Ministry based on the false premise that Yitzchak had claimed the ministry had decided to investigate Bracha. The ministry, without requesting proof from Nussbaum, then responded as quoted above.
Yitzchak demanded a retraction from the ministry, which has yet to materialize.
The campaign against Yitzchak is fierce and dirty. Mati Golan in a Globes article claimed that the News1 website “was always for Pinto and against Bracha.” The subtitle of Golan’s article was: “There is no escaping the impression that in this case you did not do your work, but that of Pinto.” Unfortunately for Golan, the facts are not on his side. For example, on May 5, the headline in the News 1 website was: “Pinto tried to conquer the judicial system,” with the subtitle: “He used his influence on Bracha, a religious man; bribes were part of a series of actions aimed to obstruct the investigations and the judicial process.”
What Golan kept from the public was that he had been sued in the past by Yitzchak, and forced by the court to apologize publicly to him. Golan, Yitzchak claims, is simply trying to get even with him now.
In the aftermath of Bracha’s suicide, Yitzchak expressed his dismay and sorrow. However, he did not retract any articles nor was he apologetic regarding his journalism. He claimed that he was only carrying out his duty as an investigative journalist.
Yitzchak is not only upset by the personal vendetta against him, but more so by the fact that the investigation against Bracha has stopped and that Bracha is being now touted as a role model by the Israel Police.
We would have expected that the media, which demands freedom of the press, would defend Yitzchak for having done his job, and would call upon the police and the Justice Ministry to pursue the investigation. If Yitzchak’s allegations are true, then there are other people involved. Is the Justice Ministry trying to cover up for someone? The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).