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Report on Netanyahu's Intervention in ‘Editorial Decisions’ Reinforce Accusations of Bribery

Report on Netanyahu's Intervention in ‘Editorial Decisions’ Reinforce Accusations of Bribery

Wednesday, 23 January, 2019 - 10:00
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu chats with Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, during a parliament session in December. (Reuters)
Ramallah - Kifah Zboun
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally oversaw a political hit job against right-wing rival Naftali Bennett while directly influencing the editorial decisions of Walla news site, according to an investigative TV report.

The Hadashot news report detailed relentless alleged efforts by Netanyahu to skew media coverage for his own benefit, revealing text messages it said were central to a corruption investigation against the Premier.

The report asserted that during the 2013 election campaign, the Walla news site, at the direct urging of Netanyahu, repeatedly published stories aimed at discrediting Bennett and casting him as inconsistent and constantly flip-flopping on his positions.

Dozens of text messages reportedly sent by Walla owner Shaul Elovitch to the website’s CEO Ilan Yeshua indicated Netanyahu was the force behind a concerted campaign to improve his own public standing by smearing Bennett with accusations against both him and his family.

The report claimed that via his associate Zeev Rubinstein, Netanyahu regularly asked Elovitch to publish negative articles in order to destroy Bennett politically.

It also provided several examples of Walla articles that appeared to follow the editorial line being pushed by the prime minister.

One of the text messages appeared to back up a Hadashot report from late last year according to which Netanyahu had sought to publish a report that Gilat, Bennett’s wife, had served as a chef at non-kosher restaurants.

“The material that I passed on to you in the afternoon is very important, mainly because [the Netanyahus] found Bennett’s wife working as a chef in a non-kosher restaurant (I passed on her picture and the description of the restaurant and the menu of vermin). And she is a religious woman,” Elovitch wrote to Yeshua, according to the report.

In further text messages, Elovitch said Netanyahu was growing impatient for the publication of a story on Bennett’s wife.

Elovitch relayed that Netanyahu “is sitting and staring at Walla” and expected the stories soon.

The new Israeli report was published a few days after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to file an indictment against Netanyahu, accusing him of bribery in case 4000.

Netanyahu dismissed the report and said he knew nothing about the text messages.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Walla news site.

In a related matter, Israel’s Arab lawmakers plan to commandeer Netanyahu's claim in the last election that Arabs were heading to the polls “in droves” to encourage their own voters in April’s election, said a Reuters’ report.

Netanyahu’s election-day message to mobilize his right-wing voter base became a defining moment of the 2015 election, drawing criticism and accusations of racism from across the globe. Netanyahu, who won the election, later apologized.

Now, Head of the Arab Joint List party Ayman Odeh said he plans to use Netanyahu's phrase, which has become an iconic and sometimes ironic part of the language in Israel, to whip up turnout amongst the Arab minority in the April 9 vote.

“Arabs are not going to forget Netanyahu's incitement,” Odeh told Reuters. “Netanyahu benefited from the slogan the first time around. Now it is our turn to benefit.”

Israel's Arab citizens make up just over one-fifth of Israel's population. They have typically turned out to vote at a rate below the national average.

Arab lawmakers’ main task will be to convince potential voters that their participation can effect real change, stressed Odeh.

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