Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Monday for an investigation into the close connection he alleged exists between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the free Hebrew daily Israel Hayom.
Herzog turned to the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, asking him to immediately remove Netanyahu from his role as communication minister. In the wake of the latest revelations and police investigations into the connection between the prime minister and the media, Herzog claimed that Netanyahu has a significant interest and direct connection to the media, which disqualifies him to serve as minister.
Herzog threatened that if Mandelblit did not remove the prime minister from that role within 48 hours, he would petition the High Court.
This follows Herzog’s comments at the weekly Zionist Union party meeting, where said he was not celebrating the police probe into the prime minister, which saw investigators interrogating him twice last week. “I already said that we will get rid of Netanyahu at the ballot box,” he said.
“Yesterday we all found out that the communications minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to be the investigator, the journalist, the editor and the printer of all newspapers,” Herzog said according to Channel 2.
Herzog said that the latest investigation confirmed what he and others had been saying in the lead-up to the 2015 Israeli elections.
“The reports of the conversation between the prime minister and [Arnon] Noni Mozes, publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, match claims that the Israel Hayom newspaper is run by and for Benjamin Netanyahu. This is what we said [before the last] elections, but our charges were rejected because we could not prove a direct link between them. This time it is proven and the link should be fully investigated,” he said.
Herzog called on the State Comptroller to investigate the connection between Netanyahu and the free daily, to determine whether setting up the newspaper was a form of illegal contribution to the Likud party worth millions of dollars and whether the paper is a “tool on behalf of one candidate and one party.”
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the Zionist Union’s No. 2, echoed Herzog’s words. “From the first day of Israel Hayom there were claims that it is illegal election propaganda,” she said.
In one ongoing investigation into the prime minister, known as Case 2000, Netanyahu is believed to have offered the publisher of Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, a curtailing of Yedioth’s pro-Netanyahu rival, Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth.
A 2014 conversation to this effect between Netanyahu and Yedioth’s publisher Arnon Mozes is reported to be at the heart of the escalating corruption investigation into the prime minister, which revolves around Netanyahu allegedly accepting illegal benefits of various kinds.
Mozes, often described as a long-time arch-nemesis of the prime minister, is reportedly being investigated under caution by police, along with Netanyahu, over their dealings.
According to a report Sunday in the daily Haaretz, officers are in possession of “a series” of audio recordings of Netanyahu that appear to corroborate the suspicions, part of a mysterious investigation whose details have remained hazy.
Channel 2 reported that Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, recorded the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes at the prime minister’s request. The recordings were found by police at Harow’s home.
Before the 2015 Israeli elections it was claimed that Israel Hayom was a mouthpiece for Netanyahu and the Likud party. The Economist claimed that the prime minister’s staff “routinely approves” the daily’s headlines before publication.
The Economist article goes on to say: “Yisrael Hayom [sic] is a freesheet owned by Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul and supporter of Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. Its headlines are routinely approved by the prime minister’s office.”
The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the story, calling it fictitious, while Israel Hayom said that the “absurd” claim did not warrant a response.
An unsuccessful bill proposed over two years ago by opposition lawmakers attempted to force the free paper to charge money, which would effectively cripple it.