Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla news site, admitted on Tuesday during a hearing at the trial against Benjamin Netanyahu that he was often dishonest in his dealings.
Yeshua is a key prosecution witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of abusing his powers when he served as both prime minister and communications minister from 2014 to 2017. Netanyahu is charged with illicitly and lucratively benefiting the business interests of Bezeq telecom’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla news website.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, while Elovitch and his wife have been charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.
“We all knew about the dissonance,” Yeshua told a judge in the case who asked if the notes he wrote to himself before meetings were true or lies. “We’re trying to justify something that is wrong. When it came to outside journalists, we were a united front and we lied; and with [our] journalists and with Shaul [Elovitch] I was a partner.”
Yeshua was asked by attorneys on Tuesdays about the content of notes that were uncovered as part of the investigation into Case 4000. He said that while he was not always honest in his responses to outsiders, he doesn’t believe that makes him a dishonest person.
“There’s a lie and there’s a lie,” said Yeshua. “As a CEO, part of the dialogue is sometimes flattering people, and saying things you don’t really mean.” Yeshua said he had lied to his employees as well as to Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, but “ask him if he thinks I’m a liar.”
Yeshua was questioned about notes he wrote before his meeting with Schocken, including that he considers Walla to be a “center-right publication that doesn’t automatically oppose the prime minister.”
“The fact that I wrote notes to myself before I went to meet Amos doesn’t mean that everything I wrote was accurate,” Yeshua told the courtroom. “These were my arguments to express the narrative. I was going to serve Shaul [Elovitch], taking the comfortable narratives, what we said, what was the most logical. Was it an honest and complete answer that accurately described the situation? No.”
In response, Judge Moshe Bar-Am told Yeshua that he has no idea which of his statements to believe.
“I can’t understand when the things you wrote to yourself are true and when they aren’t,” said Bar-Am. “How can we know? Can you give us a sign?” Yeshua replied that they were true or false “according to the situation.”
Yeshua met with Schocken in 2015 as Haaretz was investigating charges that later formed the basis of Case 4000 — that Walla was doing the bidding of Netanyahu as part of a media bribery scheme involving its parent company, Bezeq.
The trial officially began in May 2020, but has been plagued by a series of delays and months of breaks. The evidentiary phase of the trial kicked off in April of this year, with Yeshua as the first, and so far only, witness. Netanyahu himself has largely been absent from the courtroom.
At a hearing last week, attorneys for Netanyahu argued that Yeshua also granted favorable coverage to a range of other politicians and not only to Netanyahu. But Yeshua argued that those figures were given preferential treatment due to their closeness to Netanyahu.
Raoul Wootliff and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.