Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held 130 phone calls with the editor-in-chief of the Israel Hayom newspaper over a two-year period between January 2015-January 2017, call logs from the Prime Minister’s Office have shown.
The latest batch of calls continued a trend first reported on in 2017, when call logs for the 2012-2015 period showed 223 phone conversations with then-editor Amos Regev, and 120 calls with owner Sheldon Adelson.
The latest phone logs were released following a long-fought court case brought by Channel 13 investigative journalist Raviv Drucker. The PMO had vehemently opposed releasing the information, but eventually relented.
As in the case of the release of the previous logs, the data appeared to show a correlation between the calls and Israel Hayom headlines that were favorable for the premier.
For example, Netanyahu and Regev spoke on February 23, 2015, as the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers was taking shape. The next day the paper led with a headline saying the emerging accord was a bad one.
The day before the March 17, 2015 elections, the two spoke three times. A front-page story on the day of the elections was critical of Netanyahu’s chief rivals in that election, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
The two spoke on February 17, 2016. The next day the paper’s front page alleged police had “buried” a sexual harassment case against Meni Naftali, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who sued Sara Netanyahu for verbal and emotional abuse.
On November 17, 2016, the two spoke as Drucker, then on Channel 10 (now on Channel 13), aired an investigative report on Netanyahu and the so-called submarine case.
The next day, as most newspapers extensively reported on the case, Israel Hayom buried it on page 11, in a story leading with a statement by Netanyahu’s attorney denying any impropriety by the premier.
Regev was replaced by Boaz Bismuth in April 2017. Channel 13 reported that phone logs from an unspecified two-month period that year showed the close relationship continuing, with Bismuth and Netanyahu holding 17 calls over 60 days.
The logs also showed that in the three days before his first interrogation by police in January 2017 in the three criminal cases in which he was eventually indicted, Netanyahu spoke three times with Sheldon Adelson, Channel 13 reported.
Netanyahu was summoned for questioning on December 30, 2016. That same day he spoke with Adelson, and spoke with him once a day the following two days. It was not clear why the two conversed or if it had anything to do with the investigation.
The batch of call logs released in 2017 also showed a frequent correlation between Netanyahu-Regev calls and headlines the next day praising the prime minister, attacking his detractors, or even quoting unnamed sources providing questionable revelations about dramatic political developments.
Freely-distributed Israel Hayom has long been regarded as strongly pro-Netanyahu in its orientation. Since its founding by Adelson in 2007, the paper has consistently supported the prime minister. Its unfailing backing 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. Many critics of the premier have taken to calling it the “Bibiton” — an amalgamation of the prime minister’s nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper (“iton”).
Drucker, the investigative reporter, asked for the details on the phone calls in order to shed light on the extent of any links between Netanyahu and the daily — as well as any possible conflicts of interest. The details of the phone calls were requested in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law on the grounds that the information is of public interest.
Netanyahu’s purported continuous efforts to secure positive coverage in the press have landed him in deep legal trouble. Two of the three criminal cases in which he faces charges relate to suspicions that he tried to arrange more favorable coverage: In the so-called Case 2000 Netanyahu allegedly sought favor from the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper in exchange for curbing Israel Hayom’s circulation numbers; and in Case 4000 the premier is accused of dealmaking with the owner of the Walla news site in exchange for favorable regulatory decisions affecting the site owner’s other communications businesses.
Both Adelson and Regev have given police testimony in the corruption probes against the prime minister.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.