Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must submit a full account of his phone calls with conservative American Jewish gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, his backer and publisher of the free newspaper Israel Hayom, a Jerusalem court ruled Wednesday.
According to the ruling in Jerusalem District Court, the prime minister will also need to disclose the dates of phone conversations with Amos Regev, the editor-in-chief of the paper, which is widely regarded as strongly pro-Netanyahu in its orientation. The court’s decision came in answer to an appeal by Channel 10, which sought the reports in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law on the grounds that the information is of public interest.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office resisted the disclosure, insisting that the phone conversations “were private calls unrelated to the prime minister’s position.” They also said the information would “expose the prime minister’s relationships with his personal friends.”
In his ruling, Judge Doron Mintz wrote that publishing reports of the calls is not only in the public interest, but also significant as Netanyahu doubles as minister of communication.
“The information required is the dates of conversation [Netanyahu] held with persons who are clearly media personalities, regardless of whether the field of written journalism is under the supervision of the Interior Ministry or that of the Communications Ministry.”
While the talks were private, Mintz wrote that they were in a grey area, since the limits of the term “privacy” are not legally delineated.
“This is data relating to a man’s social circles and his relationships with other people that could be seen as personal matters… but when one discusses a public figure like the prime minister, information relating to his social circles may exceed the limits of private affairs. A man taking on a public role exposes himself to a large extent to public scrutiny, even more so when fulfilling the most senior role in the government.”
The Prime Minister’s Office also said that exposing the dates of conversation may reveal other details, should there be a cross-referencing of the times of the calls and the times of certain events in Israeli politics.
Mintz disputed this argument, writing: “On the contrary, this claim supports the claims of the appellants. The defendants’ claim that one can find linkage between the dates of calls and some events that took place in the public eye points to the veracity of the claim that the information is in the public’s interest.”