Days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retweeted a statement urging that a journalist responsible for investigative reporting into his affairs be jailed — before walking back the call — an ally of the premier in Likud demanded Saturday that the attorney general open an investigation into senior Channel 13 reporter Raviv Drucker and others.
MK Shlomo Karai sent a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in which he called for probes into Drucker, as well as the network’s legal analysts Aviad Glickman and Baruch Kra.
All three of the journalists have reported extensively on the graft cases Netanyahu was indicted in.
Karai, in his letter to Mandelblit, claimed, without any clear legal basis, that the journalists had committed “a series of serious offenses,” including sub judice, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and witness harassment.
“Freedom of the press is incredibly important in a democracy; however, it’s also forbidden for journalists to tamper with witnesses and distort a trial,” Karai wrote on Twitter.
He added wryly that “I have no expectations of the attorney general, who should have resigned long ago, but this symbolic gesture is important in my eyes.”
As Netanyahu’s investigation and trial have advanced, his allies on the right have increasingly called for Mandelblit to resign and be investigated again over a 2010 affair in which he was suspected of wrongdoing but eventually cleared.
Karai’s entreaty to Mandelblit comes just days after Netanyahu retweeted a Likud statement saying Drucker belongs in jail for his reporting on the prime minister’s criminal cases.
“Raviv Drucker is continuing this evening to carry out a criminal field trial against Prime Minister Netanyahu: obstructing court proceedings, threatening state witnesses, all with the goal of trying to tilt the opinion of the judges,” the party said.
“In a proper world Raviv Drucker would go to jail today for broadcasting criminal leaks and obstructing criminal proceedings,” the Likud statement said. Netanyahu retweeted it.
The statement was later deleted from the party’s and Netanyahu’s Twitter pages.
Asked about it during a press conference, Netanyahu said jailing journalists was “absurd” and asserted the statement was “an unfortunate formulation by spokespeople that happens from time to time.”
He nonetheless went on to criticize Drucker for the report, even suggesting he indeed should be questioned by police.
“I am in favor of diversity and voicing opinions and criticism, but journalists cannot interfere with court proceedings and tamper with witnesses,” Netanyahu said. “These are things that need to be examined and investigated. Nobody is above the law — including journalists.”
In response to the original comments about Drucker, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and several of his coalition allies issued statements defending freedom of the press and saying the role of journalists is to scrutinize those in power.
“That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now and that’s how it will be,” Gantz wrote on Twitter.
Journalistic associations and a good governance group also rebuked Likud and Netanyahu.
“In a proper democracy neither a prime minister nor anyone on his behalf issues threats of incarceration, explicit or implicit, against reporters, even if they dare to investigate suspicions relating to him personally,” the Israel Press Association said. “It is still the judicial system, and it alone, that decides on jail sentences.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel called the Likud response a “crossing of a red line” and said it could “encourage harm to the journalist, the media outlet he works for and the freedom of the press.”
The Movement for Quality Government expressed its support for Drucker and other journalists. “In a normal country a prime minister doesn’t threaten to put a journalist in jail,” the group said.
Drucker’s report centered on Case 4000, in which the premier is accused of approving regulatory moves benefiting the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms in exchange for positive news coverage from the company’s Walla news site. Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case.
The program aired recordings of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, speaking with Ilan Yeshua, who was CEO of Walla.
In a recording from July 2015, Elovitch can be heard saying Netanyahu was doing many things for him, things “I wouldn’t believe… I feel I owe [him] all the time… and I’m not delivering.”
In another recording, Yeshua complains to Elovitch of being “a marionette” for Netanyahu and warns that news reports benefiting the Netanyahu family must be done “carefully” or management could face a revolt from the newsroom.
Shaul and Iris Elovitch each face bribery charges in the case. They deny wrongdoing.
Netanyahu, the Elovitches and Arnon Mozes — the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper who is charged with bribery in another case involving the premier — all appeared at the Jerusalem District Court last month for the start of trial proceedings.