In apology, Yair Netanyahu dismisses strip club recording as drunken rambling

In apology, Yair Netanyahu dismisses strip club recording as drunken rambling

Politicians decry ‘hedonism,’ allege possible conflict of interest in gas deal in wake of PM’s son trying to get money for strippers from son of tycoon

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on  September 17, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized over a recording released Monday in which he was heard trying to parlay a gas deal worth billions into some cash for strippers, dismissing the comments as the ramblings of a person under the influence of alcohol and slamming the channel’s decision to air them.

The explosive recordings of Yair Netanyahu, published by Hadashot news, sent a shockwave through Israel’s political system Monday night, with Netanyahu’s office deriding their release as part of a witch hunt and the Knesset opposition leader saying they could be a sign of unethical dealings.

Yair Netanyahu called the report on him “biased and shameful,” and claimed the recordings were illegally obtained.

“In that late night conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I said foolish things about women and other foolish things that would have been better left unsaid,” he said. “These words do not represent who I am, the values I was raised on, or the principles I believe in. I am regret saying them and apologize if anyone was offended by them.”

The recording, apparently made two and a half years ago, captured conversations between then-25-year-old Yair Netanyahu; Nir Maimon, the son of gas magnate Koby Maimon; and Roman Abramov, a friend of the younger Netanyahu, who has been in the news recently in connection with police investigations into Prime Minister Netanyahu’s relationship with Australian gambling tycoon James Packer.

Hadashot news reported in November that police are looking into why Abramov was given a job by Packer, despite lacking relevant business experience.

In one of the investigations against the prime minister, known as Case 1000, police are probing expensive gifts given to the Netanyahu family by Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, and actions they suspect he took on their behalf. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing in the case.

In the recording, Yair Netanyahu and Nir Maimon can be heard joking about the prime minister’s ties to the elder Maimon and his immense profit from a multi-billion-dollar gas deal between private companies and the state.

“Bro, you have to spot me. My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro,” Yair Netanyahu says.

“You owe us, you owe us NIS 25,000 ($7,255),” Abramov interjects.

Yair Netanyahu continues: “Bro, my dad now arranged a $20 billion show for you and you can’t spot me NIS 400 ($116)?”

In December 2015, Netanyahu successfully overcame a year-long delay in approving the controversial deal, which he had fought for tooth and nail, in the Knesset and cabinet.

Critics of the deal argued that it created a de facto duopoly in the gas market that would lead to higher prices for Israeli consumers, while its proponents said the protections given to the gas companies were necessary in order to entice them to invest the billions of dollars needed to develop the fields.

Yair Netanyahu, like the prime minister, specifically denied the implication that the gas deal had been negotiated with the intention to benefit Koby Maimon.

“The things I said about Nir Maimon were nothing but a bad joke aimed at mocking him, and any sane person understands that,” he stressed. “I have never taken interest in the gas deal, nor have any understanding of its details.”

But, responding to the recordings, Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay said that Yair Netanyahu’s friendship with Nir Maimon may suggest a deeper connection between the prime minister and Koby Maimon that could have effected the negotiations over the gas deal.

“When I fought from within the government against the corrupt gas deal, I said that it was clear to me that there was something bigger that was being kept from us,” Gabbay, who resigned as a cabinet minister in 2016, said.

Then environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, at a committee meeting at the Knesset on December 2, 2015, during a discussion on a controversial natural gas deal, which was recently approved by the Israeli government. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I can tell you that the exuberance with which [Benjamin] Netanyahu handed out bonuses of millions of dollars on our account to the owners of Tamar seemed very odd to me,” Gabbay added sarcastically. “I never understood what pushed him to act against the interest of the public and in favor of Teshuva, Nobel and Maimon.”

Other opposition members said the recordings highlighted a life of excess lived by both Yair and Benjamin Netanyahu. In the recordings, Yair Netanyahu and his friends can be heard discussing the thousands of shekels they had paid for private dances that evening. He also appeared to offer his friends sexual favors from a woman he was in an intimate relationship with in exchange for money and jkoes about killing the bodyguard protecting him to keep the conversation from becoming public.

Meretz MKs Michal Rozin and Mossi Raz said they would ask Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to open an investigation to a possible conflict of interest with Maimon and into the use of public funds to take the prime minister’s son and his friends out for a night of debauchery.

Hadashot news said that the conversations took place in an armored car provided by the Prime Minister’s Office and driven by a similarly state-funded driver. A Shin Bet security guard was also with the group throughout the night. Last week, Yoram Cohen, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, revealed that he had recommended against providing publicly funded permanent guards for the prime minister’s two sons, but that his recommendation was overruled.

“It can’t be that our money funds a car and bodyguard for the prime minister’s son and his buddies to feed the culture of rape and exploitation of women,” Rozin wrote on Facebook.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, February 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“What rot. The ‘friends,’ the hedonism, the smugness, the sense of owning public money, the disrespect and attempt for women and the ‘fun’ of purchasing sex. Eww,” Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg tweeted immediately after the broadcast.

“No, Netanyahu. Every parent I know would be ashamed and ask himself what is his responsibility for educating his children to such a moral low,” Zionist Union MK Stav Shapir tweeted, referring to the Netanyahus’ response to the report, maintaining that Yair’s remarks in the recording were “empty words.”

Referring to allegations that the elder Netanyahu accepted illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors in exchange for advancing their interests, former prime minister Ehud Barak tweeted that Yair Netanyahu was a “narcissist who grew up in a foul swamp of corruption with favors from billionaires and dark deals at the expense of the public.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and their son Yair during a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, not pictured, at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on December 8, 2013. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

Recent months have seen a slew of headlines over Yair Netanyahu’s personal life, his connection to a pair of corruption investigations against the prime minister, and a series of controversial social media posts that have landed him in hot water.

The recordings were released by Hadashot news, despite pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to block their broadcast. Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen sent a letter to Hadashot asking that the recording not be aired, the channel said.

In a statement to the TV channel, the Netanyahu family said the recordings were meant to undermine the prime minister.

“Your witch hunt has reached a new and unprecedented low with the broadcast of a secret tape of things that were said jokingly two and a half years ago, between young people drinking alcohol,” the statement said.

It added that the prime minister was not aware of his son’s friendship with Nir Maimon, and asserted that Netanyahu Senior did not know Maimon’s billionaire father.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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