A-G to Netanyahu: Don’t dabble in telecom issues
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A-G to Netanyahu: Don’t dabble in telecom issues

Mandelblit warns PM, who also serves as communications minister, that his friendship with Bezeq chief is a conflict of interest

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he keep out of issues relating to the competition between the Bezeq telecommunications group and other companies, due to his friendship with Bezeq chairman and communications mogul Shaul Elovitz.

Mandelblit wrote Wednesday to Netanyahu, who also serves as communications minister, saying that “given the background of the friendship between the prime minister and Mr. Elovitz, will the prime minister refrain from dealing with matters relating to companies controlled by Mr. Elovitz, in order to avoid allegations of conflict of interest?”

Elovitz heads a group of companies that includes Bezeq, the Yes satellite company, the Pelephone cellphone company, Bezeq International international dialing service and the Walla news website.

Mandelblit, Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary, proposed that the prime minister “refrain from dealing with matters relating specifically to these companies, as well as other matters that have a material effect on them.”

Shaul Elovitz, Bezeq owner (Calcalist screenshot)
Shaul Elovitz, Bezeq owner (Calcalist screenshot)

He noted that this applies to any communications competition, and highlighted the HOT cable company, Yes’s major rival: “In areas where there is major competition with the HOT group, it was decided that the prime minister and communications minister should refrain from dealing in this field as a whole.”

The attorney general advised that in such situations the matter should be transferred to another cabinet minister to prevent conflict of interest.

Mandelblit’s ruling came in response to a request by MK Zehava Galon of the left-wing opposition Meretz party to check the possibility of conflict of interest for Netanyahu due to his relationship with Elovitz.

The director-general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, said Mandelblit’s decision would have only a minor influence as ministry dealings with the Bezeq company rarely needs any intervention of the minister.

“Since Bezeq is such a veteran and central company the regulation of it is very organized,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “For years already, ministry employees have been dealing with it almost without instructions from the minister.”

Filber added that even when major policy decisions need to be made, the groundwork is done within the ministry and then presented to the minister for a final decision.

Hebrew media reports suggested that Netanyahu is likely to tap Tourism Minister Yariv Levin as the cabinet member to handle communications issues that Netanyahu is forbidden to deal with himself.

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