Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and his Zionist Union faction on Sunday filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be suspended from his ancillary position as communications minister, arguing the latest revelations from the criminal investigations into Netanyahu disqualify him from holding the post.
“It’s clear to everyone that Netanyahu has a serious conflict of interest as communications minister, and I am again calling for the portfolio to be transferred immediately,” Herzog wrote of his appeal on Twitter.
The petition argued that an alleged quid pro quo deal Netanyahu discussed with the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily demonstrated the prime minister’s significant interest and direct connection to the media, which disqualifies him to serve as minister.
“Every moment he stays in this role exacerbates the damage,” Herzog wrote. “This is comparable to having a finance minister who has personal and business interests in a country’s largest bank.”
Herzog last week urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to immediately remove Netanyahu from the ministry, citing similar reasons.
He threatened that if Mandelblit did not remove the prime minister as communications minister within 48 hours, the Zionist Union would petition the High Court for his ouster.
In transcripts of recordings that surfaced earlier this month, Netanyahu and Mozes appear to discuss a possible agreement under which the prime minister would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of the free, pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.
Mozes, often described as a long-time arch-nemesis of the prime minister, is being investigated under caution by police, along with Netanyahu, over their dealings.
Israel Hayom, which has the highest circulation of any newspaper in Israel and is owned and financed by the American-Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is a staunch voice of support for Netanyahu and his Likud party.
According to reports, the leaked recordings highlight the potential existence of a troublesome relationship between Netanyahu and Israel Hayom, despite repeated denials by Netanyahu over the years that he has any influence over the content of the free daily.
Israel Hayom’s funding and content has long been a source of contention, with opponents of Netanyahu claiming that the paper constitutes political campaign material for Netanyahu and his Likud party, a charge rejected by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira in October 2016.
In addition to the alleged quid pro quo deal involving Mozes, the Yedioth owner, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly accepting gifts from wealthy benefactors.
Police have questioned Netanyahu under caution over the recorded conversations with Mozes and the graft allegations several times in recent weeks.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in either case.