Forced by court order, Netanyahu reveals 230 calls to Israel Hayom editor
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'All politicians speak to publishers, editors-in-chief'

Forced by court order, Netanyahu reveals 230 calls to Israel Hayom editor

PM also says he had over 100 phone conversations in same 2012-2015 period with the newspaper's owner, Sheldon Adelson

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson (L) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cornerstone laying ceremony for the Medicine Faculty buildings at the Ariel University in the West Bank, June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)
American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson (L) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cornerstone laying ceremony for the Medicine Faculty buildings at the Ariel University in the West Bank, June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

Forced by a Supreme Court order to reveal the dates of his phone calls with the owner and chief editor of a newspaper seen as staunchly loyal to him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on Thursday that from 2012-2015 he spoke with American Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson almost once a week and nearly double that with then-Israel Hayom editor Amos Regev.

Earlier this month, the court accepted an appeal by Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker, and ordered Netanyahu to release the information on the phone calls, citing the public interest. On Sunday, Drucker threatened to file a motion for contempt of court against the prime minister if he continued to withhold the information despite the ruling.

In a lengthy Facebook post Thursday night, the prime minister said that in the three years between 2012 and 2015, he spoke to Adelson on average 0.75 times a week, indicating there were some 117 phone calls with the Israel Hayom owner during that period. The calls with Regev occurred around 1.5 times a week on average, Netanyahu said, totaling over 230 calls.

“I will tell you something that everyone knows: All the politicians in Israel speak to publishers, editors-in-chief and journalists,” Netanyahu wrote in his own defense. “Between politicians and the media there is a constant and ongoing dialogue — this is what is accepted in democracies.”

Netanyahu wrote that Adelson has been “very close friend for 30 years and I am happy to speak with him from time to time.”

Amos Regev, chief editor of Israel Hayom daily newspaper arrives for questioning in the so called ‘Case 2000’ affair at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 17, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Israel Hayom is widely regarded as strongly pro-Netanyahu in its orientation. Drucker asked for the details on the 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.

Responding to the decision, Drucker wrote on Twitter: “Now we know why Netanyahu fought so hard [not to release the details of the phone conversations].”

Drucker said that the “crazy amount” of phone calls with Adelson and Regev revealed by Netanyahu went far beyond the “just friendly conversation” that the prime minister claimed.

The court ruling 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. Both Adelson and Regev have given police testimony in the corruption probes against the prime minister.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

The court decision accepted an appeal by 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 details of the phone calls had originally been requested in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law on the grounds that the information is of public interest.

Raviv Drucker, political commentator for Channel 10 television walks in the Knesset on May 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that as Netanyahu served as communications minister at the time of the original petition and was therefore “responsible for government policy towards 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.

Netanyahu said in his Thursday post that forcing politicians to publicize their correspondence with journalists could harm free speech rather than serve it.

“I am opposed in principle to revealing the conversations that take place between politicians and journalists,” he wrote. “In my opinion, this intervention in the complicated ties between the media and politics does not serve democracy, rather the opposite.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu issued the latest in a series of attacks on the media, accusing the press of playing up a pair of corruption investigations against him in an effort to end his premiership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party rally in Airport City on August 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party rally in Airport City on August 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Since its founding a decade ago, Israel Hayom 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.

Some 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 months.

Netanyahu is currently a criminal suspect in “Case 2000,” investigating an alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon 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.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon 'Noni' Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)
Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon ‘Noni’ Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

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.

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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