Ex-Likud minister denies leaking damaging Netanyahu tape, blames ‘evil people’

Members of ruling party turn against former loyalist Ayoub Kara, with some suggesting he may be seeking retribution after losing PM’s support in the primaries

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Likud members on Tuesday accused the party’s former communications minister Ayoub Kara of leaking to the media damning recordings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that exposed his deep involvement in media issues in late 2017.

Kara denied involvement, calling for a thorough investigation to weed out the “mole” and “evil people” behind the leak.

A recording that was broadcast by the Channel 13 network on Monday featured Netanyahu screaming at then-communications minister Kara, insulting him and demanding that he shutter the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the public body that oversees cable and satellite stations in Israel.

The recording suggested Netanyahu was still intimately involved in directing matters at the Communications Ministry in late 2017, despite having relinquished the communications portfolio earlier that year amid an ongoing criminal investigation into his alleged collusion with major media outlets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Likud MK Miki Zohar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Whoever handed over the recordings should be ashamed,” Likud MK Miki Zohar told Israel Radio on Tuesday. “I think it’s Kara but I very much hope I’m wrong.”

He said Kara could be retaliating for his failure to secure a realistic spot on the Likud list in the party primaries after abruptly losing Netanyahu’s support, but insisted the recording only strengthened the prime minister politically, as it demonstrated his commitment to keeping the right-wing Channel 20 afloat.

“I think it’s connected to Ayoub Kara,” said Likud MK David Bitan on Army Radio when asked about the source of the leaks.

Kara, a Netanyahu loyalist who railed against the ruling party when he left political office in June, on Tuesday continued to deny involvement.

“An evil person recorded me,” Kara told Israel Radio. “There were others in the conversation. Right now, from here, I’ll go take a polygraph test if necessary and open myself up to any investigation. I would be happy if there was a comprehensive investigation that would find, once and for all, the mole working to undermine the entire system.”

Likud’s Justice Minister Amir Ohana, also speaking to Army Radio, suggested the third party to the conversation, an unnamed Likud official, could be the culprit.

In the recording, Netanyahu can be heard demanding that Kara “save” the right-wing Channel 20, which lost its bid to produce, manage, and broadcast the Knesset channel following a court appeal by competitors in late 2017.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara at a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

He also verbally abuses Kara, screaming “have you lost it?” in a harsh tone when the Druze politician describes efforts to collaborate with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked. Shaked, who currently heads the Yamina party, used to be close to Netanyahu but the two had a falling out.

Kara lost the prime minister’s backing before the Likud party primaries in February for reasons that remain unclear, and failed to get a high enough spot on the party’s slate to enter the Knesset. He later reportedly lashed out at some party members as “Nazis” — a term he denied using — before quitting his ministerial post in June and accusing the ruling party of prejudice against the Druze community.

Kara reacted Monday to the report by calling it “despicable” and saying “the very fact that my phone and the prime minister’s were tapped raises the suspicion of a plot to harm me the prime minister and the right-wing government, and I will not agree to that.”

In a tweet, he threatened to file a police complaint to find how the conversation was leaked.

“I did my job in the most honest, upright and dignified way,” he added.

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Flash90)

Yair Netanyahu, the premier’s son, took a swipe at Kara by responding: “Wasn’t it you who recorded [the conversation]?”

The prime minister’s political opponents were quick to criticize his actions. Former prime minister Ehud Barak of the left-wing Democratic Camp called him the “most corrupt prime minister in the history of Israel.”

The centrist Blue and White Party issued a statement accusing Netanyahu of “acting to undermine and constrict the independence of the media and turn Israel into Turkey.”

The Labor-Gesher Party called for an investigation into Netanyahu, stating that he respected “no red lines and no boundaries. The law and the attorney general’s guidelines are not even a recommendation to him.”

The council that Netanyahu demanded be shuttered also oversees the satellite television provider Yes. Netanyahu is suspected of having pushed former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber to approve a merger of Yes with telecom giant Bezeq, a development that eventually went through, earning Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch hundreds of millions of dollars.

In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo, in which Elovitch ensured favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second-largest news site, which he also owned, in return for the prime minister’s intervention in regulatory matters.

“This is Case 5000. Netanyahu has lost it, he cares only for himself,” Blue and White leader Benny Gantz told the Ynet news site on Tuesday in response to the recording, referring to the series of corruption investigations into the premier.

Netanyahu took to Twitter to defend himself on Monday evening, tweeting that “all of the prime minister’s actions are fully in line with the Supreme Court’s guidelines after leaving office as communications minister.”

He argued that his defense of Channel 20 was an attempt to push back against left-wing attempts to muzzle conservative outlets.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90/File)

“The prime minister was perfectly allowed to engage in the actions presented, as he has fought his entire life for a diversity of opinions in the communications market — an inexcusable sin in the eyes of his opponents,” he tweeted, adding that he had not intervened in matters relating to either Elovitch or Bezeq.

In a separate statement, Netanyahu asserted that his “determination to make changes and break the left-wing monopoly in the media had turned him and his family into targets.”

Netanyahu has long been a harsh critic of the Israeli press, posting the faces of prominent journalists on election billboards, presenting them as enemies of democracy and calling out what he terms “fake news.”

He stepped up his rhetoric on Saturday night, accusing several figures affiliated with Channel 12 of carrying out a “terror attack against democracy,” due to the network’s critical coverage of the cases against him.

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