Israel Hayom pulls archive after revelations on calls between PM, editor
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Israel Hayom pulls archive after revelations on calls between PM, editor

Free daily denies its removal of past editions from website is tied to publication of frequency of Netanyahu’s contacts with its leadership

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

A man hands out the free daily newspaper 'Israel Hayom' to passersby on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem. March 7, 2012. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man hands out the free daily newspaper 'Israel Hayom' to passersby on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem. March 7, 2012. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel Hayom removed its public archive of past editions from the newspaper’s website on Tuesday, amid allegations that phone logs showing calls between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the paper’s editor pointed to the Israeli leader wielding outsize influence over editorial decisions at the free daily.

Only editions of the paper published in 2017 are now available on Israel Hayom’s website.

The online archive had allowed journalists to check the dates of the phone calls between Netanyahu and former editor Amos Regev, as well as owner Sheldon Adelson, against the next mornings’s edition of Israel Hayom, with many of the paper’s headlines praising the prime minister, attacking his detractors or even quoting unnamed sources providing questionable revelations about dramatic political developments.

A spokesperson for the newspaper said that the archive was being moved to a new digital system and its removal “had nothing to do” with the publication of the prime minister’s phone log.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal by Channel 10 investigative journalist Raviv Drucker and ordered Netanyahu to release the dates and times of the phone calls, citing the public interest.

The full log, released on Sunday, revealed that Netanyahu held a total of 120 phone conversations with Adelson between 2012-2015 and 223 with Regev during during same time period.

Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony at Ariel University in the West Bank on June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

The phone logs had revealed Netanyahu spoke with editors of the paper as often as five times in a single day during the run-up to the March 2015 election.

If Netanyahu directly coordinated or directed the newspaper’s coverage, then the many millions of shekels Adelson spent on the newspaper could be construed as illegal campaign financing, as was claimed in a complaint submitted to Israel’s Israel’s Central Elections Committee in February 2015.

In response, Netanyahu submitted an affidavit to the committee at the time saying he “does not have, and has never had, any ties of control or any other organizational ties, in any form, with Israel Hayom, or with newspaper staff or journalists writing for it, that would influence the paper’s editorial considerations or its contents.”

The full details of the phone calls come as Netanyahu faces deepening legal trouble in several criminal probes, including suspicions that he tried to arrange more favorable coverage from the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper 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.

Israel Hayom was long regarded as strongly pro-Netanyahu in its orientation. Drucker, the Channel 10 investigative reporter, 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. 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.

Then-editor of the Israel Hayom daily Amos Regev arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 17, 2017. (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 confidant MK David Bitan responded Sunday to the Channel 10 report by filing his own Freedom of Information Act request to the Prime Minister’s Office demanding the release of similar information about phone calls to newspaper editors by former premiers Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

The Prime Minister’s Office agreed to release the information within 60 days.

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