Netanyahu asks employees to take polygraph tests amid internal conflicts

Likud MKs have claimed that officials in Netanyahu's office have leaked information to journalists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, February 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, February 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Likud chairman and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in making changes to the composition of his office, just before returning to the Prime Minister's Office - according to Likud sources speaking with Walla News on Monday.

According to the report, Netanyahu asked a number of employees to take a polygraph test against the background of a series of leaks of fights between Likud MKs and office members.

Netanyahu's spokesperson later admitted in a statement on Tuesday morning that all of his staff had taken a polygraph, and that all were found to be speaking the truth.

Depending on the results of the tests, Netanyahu is considering "dismantling and reassembling" the office and recruiting new people for senior positions surrounding him in the Prime Minister's Office.

In the last few weeks since the elections, Netanyahu's office has been a whirlwind centered on the public confrontation between the office's senior officials: designated chief of staff Tzachi Braverman and political advisor Iki Cohen and MKs Tali Gottlieb and Galit Distal-Atbaryan.

 Likud MK Galit Distal Atbaryan hurling abuse towards PM Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum on October 4, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH) Likud MK Galit Distal Atbaryan hurling abuse towards PM Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum on October 4, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)

The tensions began at the beginning of the month, when Gottlieb publicly attacked Braverman and Cohen, claiming that they had leaked details of a personal conversation with her to journalist Ben Caspit. Later, Distal-Atbaryan also came out against Braverman, accusing him of another leak to Caspit and that he had decided to "open a front" against Likud women.

Yesterday, the confrontation was renewed and even intensified, following Braverman's quotes published in Kan 11 against Gottlieb and Distal-Atbaryan, who he allegedly called "ungrateful." Braverman denied the quote attributed to him, but Gottlieb reacted sharply on Twitter and claimed that he is a "chauvinistic misogynist" and an "advisor to Ahithophel" who harms the Likud and Netanyahu.

The tensions and suspicions in Netanyahu's office also increased against the background of a series of publications about the internal conflicts and what was going on in the office, including a report last week in Israel Hayom about the details of a conversation that took place between Distal-Atbaryan and the wife of the prime minister-designate Sara Netanyahu. Following the multiple leaks, some of the bureau's employees were sent to perform the polygraph tests.

At the same time, Netanyahu's political advisor, Cohen, contacted the 019 cell phone company this week demanding to reveal who is behind the anonymous text messages that have been circulated against him in the last two months, in which it is claimed that he is the leaker to Caspit. Cohen threatened to take legal action unless the company tells him within a week who is the person behind the distribution of the messages.

Netanyahu's office conflicted on who should be Knesset speaker

According to Likud sources, another area that has increased tensions in the bureau concerns the Likud battle for the position of Knesset speaker. Most members of Netanyahu's bureau support the appointment of MK Ofir Akunis to the position, while Braverman and MK Yariv Levin promoted the candidacy of Yoav Kish and Dodi Amsalem and an internal conflict arose in the office.

Despite his imminent return to the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu has not yet decided or announced the staffing of senior positions at the office, nor the identity of the Cabinet Secretary or the Director of the Prime Minister's Office.

 Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Netanyahu's current office is mostly made up of veteran advisors who have worked alongside him for many years, from the Prime Minister's Office and later to the opposition leader's office. Braverman, the designated chief of staff, served as the government secretary between 2016-2021, and media advisers Ofer Golan, Yonatan Urich and Topaz Luk have been working for Netanyahu since 2015.

Another adviser to Netanyahu, Nevo Katz, who is expected to be appointed Knesset-Government adviser and settlement adviser, also has worked at the office for almost three years now, and ultra-Orthodox advisor Zeev Fleishman joined the bureau in the past year.