Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday requested that the Supreme Court hold an additional hearing on a ruling ordering him to publicize the dates of his phone calls with American casino mogul and Israel Hayom newspaper publisher Sheldon Adelson, hours before a court-mandated deadline to file a request.
In a letter to the court, Netanyahu’s lawyer Yaakov Weinroth said that while the prime minister “has nothing to hide,” the Supreme Court ruling is a “fatal violation of the right to privacy.”
“In the short time that has passed since the ruling was published, we are witnessing a huge wave of petitions to reveal private telephone calls and diaries of private meetings of many public officials and elected representatives, and this is only the beginning,” the letter said.
“It is inconceivable that ministers, Knesset members, judges and other public officials will be subject to the exposure of their private conversations with journalists and in general,” it added.
In his request, Netanyahu asked for the additional hearing to be held with an expanded bench.
The decision to file a private request came after state prosecutors refused to file a request on Netanyahu’s behalf, the Haaretz daily reported.
According to the ruling from earlier this month, the prime minister will also need to disclose the dates of phone conversations with Amos Regev, the former editor-in-chief of the daily.
The court decision earlier this month accepted an appeal by Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker and overturned a 2016 ruling of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which in turn had overturned a previous 2015 Jerusalem District Court ruling ordering the information be released.
The reports had originally been requested in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law on the grounds that the information is of public interest.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that since Netanyahu had served as communications minister at the time of the original petition and was therefore “responsible for government policy toward Israel’s media,” there was particular significance in the request to publish the details of his talks with the owner and editor of Israel’s most widely distributed paper.
“The public interest in releasing this information outweighs the considerations for Netanyahu and Adelson’s right to privacy,” Justice Menachem Mazuz wrote in the ruling.
The decision came as Netanyahu faces deepening legal trouble in a group of criminal probes, including suspicions that he tried to arrange more favorable coverage from the publisher of a rival publication in exchange for curbing Israel Hayom’s circulation numbers.
Israel Hayom is widely regarded as strongly pro-Netanyahu in its orientation and the phone calls could shed light on the extent of any links between Netanyahu’s administration and the daily — as well as any possible conflicts of interest.
Since its founding a decade ago, Israel Hayom has been staunchly loyal to the prime minister. Its unfailing support of Netanyahu has been characterized by the playing down of his failures, the hyping of his achievements and the lashing of his critics. Furthermore, it has shied away from praising his rivals.
But media analysts have noted a shift in its coverage of late that may suggest a cooling in the paper’s support for Netanyahu and his family in recent weeks.
Netanyahu is currently a criminal suspect in “Case 2000,” investigating an alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes in which the two seemed to discuss an illicit agreement that would have seen the prime minister hobble Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, turned state’s witness, agreeing to provide testimony in the case as well as another investigation known as “Case 1000,” involving allegedly illicit gifts given to the prime minister by billionaire benefactors.
News of Harow’s decision came a day after police explicitly said for the first time that a number of corruption investigations involving Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” The police stopped short of saying that the Israeli leader was directly suspected of these crimes.
Harow has reportedly told police that he was asked by Netanyahu to practically “advance matters” that came up in the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations.
Whereas Netanyahu reportedly has told investigators his conversations with Mozes were not actually related to concrete plans, Harow has told police he was ordered to take actions as a consequence of the Netanyahu-Mozes talks, Channel 2 said, noting there was a police gag order on much of Harow’s testimony.
Channel 2 reported earlier this month that Harow reportedly gave police details on the understandings reached between Netanyahu and Mozes, strengthening the police case beyond recordings discovered on Harow’s computer of their meetings in late 2014 and early 2015.
This information comes from a separate police investigation into Harow’s affairs on suspicion that when he came back to work for Netanyahu in 2014, he only fictitiously sold his consulting firm, rather than genuinely doing so as was required.
Further complicating Netanyahu’s position, Adelson is said to have recently testified that Netanyahu spoke with him about the possibility of canceling some of Israel Hayom’s weekend supplements, which would have reduced its appeal and its revenues, Channel 2 said.
Adelson, who has twice provided testimony in the investigation, has reportedly told police that Netanyahu had spoken with him about a matter of financial importance which he had discussed with Mozes, the Yedioth publisher.
Adelson is also reported to have said that he was “surprised, disappointed and angered” to learn of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes.
In addition to Adelson, his wife Miriam has also provided testimony in connection to the investigation. Neither of the Adelsons is suspected of wrongdoing in the case.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.