The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.
This morning focus will be split between two dramas unfolding on two sides of the capital:
At the President’s Residence, parties will begin filing in to discuss with President Reuven Rivlin their recommendations for Israel’s next prime minister, amid ongoing deadlock following the March 23 election. This, amid reports of a possible breakthrough in talks between Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett on forming a joint government to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
And at Jerusalem’s District Court, Netanyahu’s presence will be demanded as his corruption trial enters the evidentiary stage.
Here on the liveblog we’ll be covering all the latest developments from both arenas. Stay with us.
President Rivlin will be meeting with representatives from all 13 parties that won Knesset seats over the course of the day, and is set on Wednesday to give the task of mustering a majority coalition to the lawmaker he deems most likely to succeed.
Here is the president’s packed schedule for the day:
- 9:30 a.m. — Likud
- 10:15 a.m. — Yesh Atid
- 11:00 a.m. — Shas
- 11:45 a.m. — Blue and White
- 12:30 p.m. — Yamina
- 1:15 p.m. — United Torah Judaism
- 2:00 p.m. — Labor
- 4:00 p.m. — Yisrael Beytenu
- 4:45 p.m. — Religious Zionism
- 5:30 p.m. — Joint List
- 6:15 p.m. — New Hope
- 7:00 p.m. — Meretz
- 7:45 p.m. — Ra’am
Similar to discussions after last year’s election, the consultations will be streamed on the president’s social media channels. We’ll include video here when it goes live.
Two rival protests are forming outside the Jerusalem District Court, where Prime Minister Netanyahu will arrive shortly for the start of the evidentiary stage in his corruption trial.
Dozens of Likud supporters backing the prime minister hold Israeli flags and posters bearing Netanyahu’s face, including some from the recent election campaign declaring that Israel is “returning to life.”
Several dozen anti-Netanyahu protesters calling on him to resign are also gathering.
Police have separated the two protests with a series of barricades.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 5, 2021
State Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari is expected to open today’s court proceedings with a twenty-minute speech laying out the criminal charges against Benjamin Netanyahu.
The judges are later scheduled to hear from the former editor of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, a key witness in Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against Netanyahu.
The prime minister faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust charges in Case 1000 and Case 2000. He denies any wrongdoing, claims the charges are fabricated, and says he is the victim of an attempted political coup.
Today’s proceedings will mark the prime minister’s third appearance in court since the indictments were filed against him in January 2020. The premier most recently appeared before the judges in February of this year, formally pleading not guilty to the charges.
Following an irregular request from his attorneys, Netanyahu has been permitted by the judges to leave the courthouse following Ben-Ari’s opening statement, meaning he will not be in the room for Yeshua’s testimony.
Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of the evidentiary stage in his corruption trial.
The prime minister’s convoy, flanked by police jeeps and outriders, is driven directly into an underground car park under the court.
The proceedings are scheduled to start at 9 a.m.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 5, 2021
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a key ally of the premier, has also arrived at the courthouse.
Outside the Jerusalem District Court, dozens of protesters sing bawdy chants and call for Netanyahu to be removed from office.
The streets around the district court, in East Jerusalem, are filled with police officers, who have closed down the surrounding area to car and road traffic in anticipation of the prime minister’s arrival.
Despite the roadblocks, protesters in black and pink railing against Netanyahu, and supporters wearing symbols of his Likud party, have reached the area in dueling demonstrations.
Netanyahu is expected to deliver a speech attacking Israel’s state prosecution and the corruption trial against him, either before today’s hearing begins or at some point during it, after he has left the court.
Channel 12 news reports that the prime minister plans to claim once again that the entire case has been manufactured in an effort to bring him down and that he has no connection to the former editor of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, a key witness in Case 4000 who is scheduled to testify today.
Unlike the opening of the trial last May, at which Netanyahu delivered a fierce speech from outside the courtroom flanked by Likud allies, the court is unlikely to allow him to speak from the courthouse today, the network notes.
He is therefore likely to deliver his speech after having left the court, which he is expected to do as Yeshua starts his testimony, or via a pre-recorded video speech.
Benjamin Netanyahu has entered the courtroom in the Jerusalem District Court where the evidentiary stage of the corruption trial is about to begin.
Fellow defendant in Case 4000, Bezeq owner Shaul Elovtich, entered moments earlier.
Former editor of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, is set to deliver testimony on how Elovitch demanded positive coverage of Netanyahu in order to receive regulatory benefits.
President Reuven Rivlin begin meeting with the leaders of political parties for consultations on their preferred candidate for forming the next government following last month’s election.
Rivlin will hold consultations throughout the day with each of the 13 parties that won enough votes to secure representation in the incoming Knesset.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, prosecutor Liat Ben Ari makes her opening statement at the start of the evidentiary stage of his trial, laying out the state’s case against the premier.
In the courtroom, Netanyahu writes notes on a pad of paper and watches Ben-Ari as she delivers her address, describing the ways in which the prime minister allegedly abused the powers of his office in three cases: Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000.
“The case before the honorable court today is a significant and severe case of regime corruption. The first suspect is the prime minister of Israel who, according to the indictment, used his great power in a forbidden way,” Ben-Ari reads from her prepared statement.
The prime minister and most of his attorneys donned black face masks for the trial, while most of the prosecution opted for white ones, as they sit in the small courtroom in the Jerusalem District Court in East Jerusalem.
Outside, pro-Netanyahu demonstrators use megaphones and speakers to voice their support for the premier and to blast upbeat music.
At the opening of consultations with party leaders, President Rivlin says: “The main consideration that will guide me is to give the task of forming the government to the Knesset member with the highest chance of succeeding in forming a government that will be backed by the new Knesset.
“The consultation process will be transparent and open to the public,” he adds.
He starts by meeting with Likud representatives, who will of course recommend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be given first shot.
Meanwhile Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz says his party will be recommending erstwhile partner Yair Lapid.
“We will continue to do everything so that an honest government is formed, and for the mandate not to go to Netanyahu who is entirely concerned with his trial,” he says.
Opening the presidential consultations, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tells President Reuven Rivlin that the Likud party recommends giving the mandate to form the government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We believe there is a clear decision of the electorate here, which is reflected in the size of the party,” he says, noting that Likud has 30 seats and is followed by Yesh Atid with only 17.
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi adds that “the Basic Law of the Government instructs the president to make a decision based on the data. Maybe 20 years ago there was such a gap between a party in first and second place. Today, it is certainly a clear decision.”
More from prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari’s opening statement against Netanyahu:
Ben-Ari says the prime minister “used the power of his office to advance his personal desires.” She says he abused his power “as a legislator and as a regulator, in order to cause or attempt to cause a media outlet to report in a different manner than it would have otherwise, solely to promote his personal matters.”
She says accusations against the premier “deal with the meeting point, the intersection, between the desire of businessmen to enjoy the prime minister’s immense powers of office and the prime minister’s desire to create an open door for himself to influence Israel’s central media bodies.
“The indictment is based on a broad tapestry of evidence, including direct and circumstantial evidence. The material is also based on a unique type of evidence: recordings of calls as well as real-time text messages. All of these will clearly and fully prove that which is described in the indictment.”
Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari indicates that the state may move to separate the case against Shaul and Iris Elovitch from Netanyahu’s in a bid to force them to give testimony.
Currently, the Elovitches are facing charges alongside the premier and have refused so far to testify on their own behalf.
Hinting at a potential strategy, Ben-Ari says that if they continue to refuse, the prosecution may try to open a separate trial against them and then call them to testify against Netanyahu as witnesses, rather than defendants.
Rivlin asks Likud MKs: If Netanyahu can’t be chosen, ‘is there an alternative candidate you’d recommend
President Rivlin hints at the possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial may play a role in his decision on whom to task with forming a coalition.
“There may be other considerations, including value-based considerations that I do not know if the president has the authority to consider,” Rivlin tells Likud representatives after they recommended Netanyahu.
“Is there another candidate you would like to recommend as an alternative candidate [to Netanyahu], if such considerations will prevent your candidate from being chosen?” Rivlin asks.
Minister Ofer Akunis replies simply, “No.”
Minister Amir Ohana notes: “More than 1 million voters voted for Likud headed by Netanyahu; they knew full well about the situation you, the president, have hinted at… They expressed their trust in him, and their lack of trust in others.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left the courtroom, along with all others, for a 15-minute break following Ben-Ari’s opening statement.
Netanyahu is not expected to return, after a request from the premier’s legal team that he be able to skip the rest of today’s hearing.
Netanyahu’s trial continues after a short break and after the prime minister has left the courtroom.
Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla news outlet, takes the stand in order to provide testimony in the corruption trial.
Yeshua is expected to describe the ways the premier and the owners of the Walla-controlling Bezeq telecommunications firm, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, pressured the news outlet to give Netanyahu positive coverage.
A day before the inauguration in the 24th Knesset, the third candidate on Yamina’s slate, Alon Davidi, announces that he will not take his seat in parliament and will return to the Sderot municipality to continue his term as mayor.
Davidi has reportedly resigned from the slate amid fears of a fifth election.
In his place, former MK Idit Silman will enter the Knesset for Yamina.
Yesh Atid MKs meeting with President Rivlin recommend that party leader Yair Lapid form the new coalition, saying he is the only candidate capable of doing so.
“When we have a prime minister who is right now in court defending himself, we need a candidate who will work for the sake of the State of Israel, not himself, to take on this important task,” Yesh Atid No. 2 Orna Barbivai says.
She says does not deny that Lapid may put forward another candidate to be prime minister, but says that he must be given the mandate to form the government based on having the best chances of being able to do so.
Rivlin, challenging Yesh Atid representatives on whether they could support a government headed by someone other than party leader Yair Lapid, says he cannot see a way out of the deadlock.
“At the moment, I can’t see a way to form a coalition,” Rivlin says.
Yesh Atid MKs meeting with him say they do no rule out sitting with any partner in the coalition, including with Likud, provided that Netanyahu is not the head of the party.
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh is questioning state’s witness Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla news site, whose testimony is considered a key element in Case 4000, one of three sets of charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tirosh, who led the prosecution’s investigation of Case 4000, typically tries fraud cases for the state prosecutor.
Yeshua is the first witness to appear in Netanyahu’s trial as the evidentiary stage opens today.
His testimony so far has focused on basic details about the Walla news site, principally its size and the identities of its top editors during the years in question.
He is expected to eventually provide testimony implicating the premier in trading regulatory favors for the owners of the Walla news site, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, who are also on trial, in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Jordan’s Prince Hamzah says he will defy orders limiting his freedom of movement after authorities said they foiled a plot against his half-brother King Abdullah II.
“Of course I’m not going to obey when they say you can’t go out, you can’t tweet, you can’t communicate with people,” he says in an audio recording posted on Twitter.
Channel 12 news reports that the majority-Arab Joint List party will not recommend any candidate to form a coalition in its meeting with President Rivlin later today.
The party, which won six seats in the March 23 election, was initially expected to recommend Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid as its candidate for prime minister.
Without the Joint List, Lapid’s chances of receiving more recommendations than Netanyahu seem almost impossible.
The pro-Netanyahu bloc of Likud (30), Shas (9), UTJ (7), and Religious Zionism (6) has a total of 52 seats.
Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Labor (7), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Meretz (6), and New Hope (6) won 51 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in total, and would need all four of Ra’am’s lawmakers to back its coalition and the right-wing Yamina, which received seven seats, in order to have a majority in the Knesset.
The third party to meet with President Rivlin, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, says it will recommend “Netanyahu and only Netanyahu” to form the next coalition and head the next government.
“Throughout the entire election campaign, we have said clearly that we will only support Netanyahu as prime minister. And that is what we are here to say today,” MK Yinon Azoulay tells Rivlin.
“We believe he is the only one who can bring about a 61-[seat] majority. How will it happen? We believe it will,” Azulay says in response to questioning from Rivlin about how Netanyahu will be able to muster enough support.
The former CEO of the Walla news site Ilan Yeshua says he was instructed to play down negative articles about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara and to boost stories that helped the premier, during his testimony in the corruption trial against Netanyahu.
Yeshua says he was told by his superiors to put out “positive articles and stories about the prime minister and his wife and occasionally about his son, but mostly about the prime minister and his wife.”
In addition, he says he was told to “put out negative stories against rivals of the prime minister, like Bennett, Naftali Bennett. We put out a series of articles against Bennett and his wife,” referring to the current head of the right-wing Yamina party who formerly headed the Jewish Home party.
In Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, prosecutors are claiming that this favorable coverage was part of a quid pro quo in exchange for regulatory favors for the owners of the Walla news site, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, who controlled the Bezeq telecommunications firm.
The lead prosecutor on Case 4000, Yehudit Tirosh, asks Yeshua if he knew the reason he was being asked to give his preferential treatment to Netanyahu.
“Did you know why? When did you know?” Tirosh asks.
“Because that’s what the prime minister wants. That was the explanation that was given,” Yeshua responds.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have interrupted the proceedings in an attempt to object to some of Yeshua’s comments and cross-examine him. The judges are blocking this effort, saying the premier’s legal team will have a chance to respond after the testimony, not during it.
Hadash, the largest faction in the mostly Arab Joint List alliance, announces that its three MKs will not recommend anyone for prime minister.
Hadash party chief Ayman Odeh — who chairs the Joint List — had originally announced after meeting with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid that the Joint List would back Lapid should he receive 55 recommendations elsewhere.
“The day after the decision, it became clear that Lapid had expressed willingness to form a rotation government with Yamina head Naftali Bennett, with the ultranationalist extremist settler right, even as his supposed partners in the ‘anti-Netanyahu bloc’ support such an idea,” Hadash says in a statement.
Hadash emphasizes that “our opposition to Netanyahu is our opposition to his political method.”
“The goal is a government that pushes for a solution to the Palestinian issue, an end to the occupation, a cessation of all forms of racial discrimination, and pursues socioeconomic policies that support the poor, vulnerable and middle classes,” Hadash says.
Another Joint List faction, the conservative nationalist Balad party, has already announced that it will also recommend no one for prime minister.
The remaining two MKs in the Joint List, members of Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party, have yet to announce a stance either way but Channel 12 news has reported they are also planning not to recommend anyone.
Former Walla editor Ilan Yeshua says the directives to change his coverage came from his superiors, including Elovitch.
He says the recommendations also came from the Prime Minister’s Office through emails, WhatsApp messages and text messages.
Yeshua gives an example of a type of message he would receive: “Do an item about this.”
He recalls a specific case in which Walla was instructed to write a negative article about then-agriculture minister Uri Ariel, but the story didn’t meet the news outlet’s editorial policies, as the reporters could not get it confirmed and Ariel had denied the allegations against him. He says this led to a follow-up conversation with Elovitch, who Yeshua says had spoken to Netanyahu.
Yeshua says the Elovitches couched their demands for positive coverage for the premier in ethical and political terms.
“They would say: what are you, [the liberal] Haaretz newspaper? What are you, a website for leftists? What are you, a website for Hamas members?” Yeshua says.
Yeshua says there were constant fights about these demands, but says “90 percent” of them were accepted anyway.
Yeshua says there was an attempt to make up a story about sexual harassment against the investigative journalist Avner Hofstein.
Hofstein currently reports for The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Israel, but at that time worked for Army Radio.
Netanyahu’s attorneys object to this allegation as they say it did not appear in the indictment or other paperwork submitted by the prosecution.
Representatives of the Blue and White party recommend Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid to form a “wide centrist government” in their meeting with Rivlin.
Together with the same recommendation from Yesh Atid, Lapid now how 25 recommendations to Netanyahu’s 39 made up of 30 from Lidud and 9 from Shas.
Culture Minister Chili Trooper tells Rivlin that the party does not rule out any others, including Likud, but will not accept “any government headed by Netanyahu.”
Rivlin says, “The direction of the talks so far is a fifth election. Democracy has exhausted itself in four election campaigns.”
During Yeshua’s testimony against Netanyahu and his former employers Shaul and Iris Elovitch, the latter interrupts him, calling him a liar.
Yeshua gives an example of not being allowed to write any stories about allegations of impropriety by the premier and his allies in the purchase of submarines from Egypt.
“How much can you lie?!” Iris shouts from the back of the courtroom, as Yeshua testified that he’d been instructed by the Elovitches to play up positive coverage of the premier and minimize negative articles.
The judges call for the court to return to order before calling a half-hour lunch break.
Former Walla editor Ilan Yeshua, giving testimony in the Jerusalem District Court, lists the various people from the Prime Minister’s Office and the premier’s inner circle who acted as intermediaries between the Netanyahus and the Walla news site.
He says the first of these conduits was a friend of the Netanyahus, the tycoon Zeev Rubinstein, who would direct the outlet to write about different topics or to take down articles that the premier and his family didn’t like.
Yeshua also names Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former media adviser, and former Likud spokesman Shai Haik as intermediaries.
According to Yeshua, this began in 2013.
Yeshua says that while other politicians also request positive coverage or try to get negative articles played down, the requests from the prime minister were on a totally different scale.
“Over the course of years, the numbers of requests from other politicians equaled a week from the prime minister and his wife,” he says.
The right-wing Yamina party recommends that its leader Naftali Bennett form the next government.
“I think that fifth elections would be a tragedy for the country,” says MK Ayelet Shaked, urging President Reuven Rivlin consider the nomination despite the party only having seven seats. She predicts a “stable” government could be formed.
In the President’s Residence, Yamina MK Matan Kahana says a fifth round of elections would be a “tragedy” and must be averted at any cost.
Rivlin indicates there’s no chance Yamina leader Bennett would be tasked with forming a government.
He urges the Yamina representatives to carefully weigh their decision to nominate Bennett, noting that they currently only have seven votes behind him.
“Naftali Bennett can only be prime minister at this stage” if he receives 61 nominations, says Rivlin.
“Who supports you? Does Likud support you?” says Rivlin. “Explain to me how he would form a government.”
Yamina declines to elaborate on what other parties would potentially support Bennett as premier.
Shaked says they’ll be back to nominate Bennett again if another candidate fails to establish a coalition after 28 days.
She also declines to answer Rivlin’s question on whether they would support another candidate for prime minister. But she also says they aren’t boycotting anyone, while stressing their views are strictly right-wing.
The Elovitches’ attorney says her client Iris apologizes for her outburst, in which she interrupted state’s witness Ilan Yeshua and called him a liar.
Afterward, the attorney stresses that the prosecution ought to clearly state when an allegation is leveled against Iris Elovitch and when it is against her husband Shaul Elovitch, as there have been cases of the two defendants being lumped together in claims that they had directed the Walla news site to publish favorable stories about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or downplay negative articles as part of an alleged quid pro quo.
State prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh instructs Yeshua to clearly note when he received a directive from Iris and when he received one from Shaul.
Shaul and Iris Elovitch are the only two defendants in the courtroom for this part of the trial, after Netanyahu and the fourth defendant in the case — Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes — both received permission to leave early.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 85, is currently being taken to Germany for medical treatment, according to Palestinian media reports.
In videos circulating in Palestinian media, a helicopter can be seen landing on Abbas’s office in Ramallah to ferry him to Amman. From there, Abbas will reportedly be taken to Germany.
A spokesperson for Abbas’s office could not be reached for comment on the president’s condition. Abbas, a longtime smoker, has a long history of health issues, ranging from heart trouble to a battle with prostate cancer more than a decade ago.
Rumors regarding Abbas’s health have been rampant, and Palestinian officials have worked to tamp down unconfirmed reports and keep the president’s health issues out of the public eye.
The current trip to Germany will not be Abbas’s first. The Palestinian Authority president headed to Berlin in 2019 for medical treatment.
Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla news site, says initially he would receive directives from his employer, Shaul Elovitch, about the types of stories that he should place prominently on the website and which he should take down as part of an alleged arrangement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but eventually he got those orders from the premier’s office directly.
“There were two directives: Take down articles that were negative [about the Netanyahus] and put up articles that were positive,” Yeshua says.
“I would get it from Nir [Hefetz] and then get it a minute later from Shaul [Elovitch]. It became clear to me that I had to do what [Hefetz] asked me to,” he says, noting that he eventually stopped waiting for the order from Elovitch.
“I would know what to do,” Yeshua says.
The former Walla CEO recalls that Hefetz, who is a state’s witness in the case, was referred to as the “Rottweiler.”
Yeshua says it was a known fact that the Walla news site was giving skewed coverage in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Sometimes we would hear comments by [Netanyahu’s media adviser] Nir Hefetz that he’d tell people that ’we don’t have to fight with Walla because Walla is his,’” Yeshua says, referring to the premier.
“It was clear that we were a website that did what the Prime Minister’s Office asked,” he says.
Former Walla news CEO Ilan Yeshua says he received the most orders and pressure in the lead-up to the 2013 and 2015 elections and when the Communications Ministry was due to approve a measure that would affect the Bezeq telecommunications firm, which was controlled by the defendants Shaul and Iris Elovitch.
“There were times that Shaul or Iris [Elovitch] would say: Take that article down now! Next week [Netanyahu] needs to sign off on something for me — that something regulatory was happening,” Yeshua says.
Netanyahu is accused of offering regulatory favors to the Elovitches in exchange for favorable coverage by the Walla news site, which they controlled through Bezeq.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua says the news outlet was always highly sensitive to stories that could be considered unfavorable toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his wife and would work to remove them from the site quickly.
“Of course, one person’s negative is another person’s positive. But the bar was very low. If it could be seen as negative, it would be taken down,” he says.
Yeshua says “almost every” request, from 2013 to late 2016, from the premier’s office or Yeshua’s employers the Elovitches to remove a negative story or play up a positive one was accepted, saying there were “exceedingly few exceptions.”
Yeshua says he eventually learned to “self-censor” and remove stories that he thought the Elovitches or the prime minister would not like before they asked.
In late 2016, Yeshua says, he stopped doing this.
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh asks Yeshua why he agreed to go along with this system.
“I loved the job. And I hoped that I would eventually succeed to manage this, that something would happen and we’d be done with it. Iris and Shaul [Elovitch] would say, ‘It’s only for a short period, it’s only for this sensitive period,’ and I bought that story,” Yeshua says.
“But I don’t have a good answer,” he says.
“The salary was good, I have to say,” Yeshua adds.
United Torah Judaism recommends that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government.
Netanyahu now has 46 backers, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has 25, and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has seven.
At the President’s Residence, UTJ leader Moshe Gafni condemns anti-Haredi rhetoric in the wake of coronavirus violations in the ultra-Orthodox community during the pandemic.
“We had a very difficult year… and the ultra-Orthodox community in particular. There were all sorts of violations of the Health Ministry regulations in all communities, we didn’t like it when it happened anywhere. We know there is a group, which isn’t small, that always put us in the spotlight. The cameras were always directed at the Haredim, if there were violations and all.”
“We thank God for the vaccines, we thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for bringing them,” he says.
Gafni says his party is loyal to Netanyahu and his Likud, adding that “if there was another candidate for Likud, we would go with them.”
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua says former finance minister Moshe Kahlon was another target for negative coverage by his news site in 2016, at the urging of the outlet’s owners, Shaul and Iris Elovitch.
“They asked that we do a series of negative articles about him. [The Elovitches] didn’t like him, they said they didn’t like him,” Yeshua says during his testimony.
According to the former Walla CEO, the Elovitches referred to Kahlon, who was born to Libyan immigrants, as “the Arab,” “the smiler” and “smiley.”
Yeshua says this seems to have been because of Kahlon’s opening of the cellular phone market when he was communications minister in the early 2010s and because of other legislative measures he advanced while in government.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua says it was well known within the outlet that he was being directed to give favorable coverage to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to Yeshua, this was opposed by the senior staff.
“There were fights all the time. There were daily fights. [Former Walla editor in chief] Yinon Magal, who no one would call left-wing, would storm out of my office, slamming the door, saying, ‘This is crazy. This doesn’t make sense. What do [the Elovitches] care? What are we doing here?’” Yeshua says.
Yeshua says that sometimes he would rationalize the matter, saying it was a temporary situation, while in other cases he would argue that giving Netanyahu favorable coverage was necessary in order to appear balanced or at least to not appear overly liberal.
“I would adopt the rhetoric and say, ‘No, that [article] really is lefty,’” he says.
President Reuven Rivlin asks the representatives from United Torah Judaism how they foresee their favored candidate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, forming a government amid the political deadlock.
“We’ll pray,” replies United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweets a link to an article by a right-wing website claiming that the Walla news outlet did not offer the premier favorable coverage, in an apparent response to the ongoing testimony of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.
Yeshua is currently testifying in Netanyahu’s corruption trial, claiming that he was constantly ordered by his employers — telecommunications magnates Shaul and Iris Elovitch — and by the premier’s office to give positive media coverage to the prime minister and downplay any negative articles about him, allegedly in exchange for regulatory favors.
Netanyahu’s tweet links to an article on the Mida website from 2018, claiming that a review of Walla’s articles from the period in question show that the news outlet’s coverage was not overwhelmingly positive.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 5, 2021
United Torah Judaism lawmakers are quizzed by Rivlin on their views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
“We don’t trust law enforcement,” interjects UTJ leader Moshe Gafni.
UTJ MK Meir Porush underlines that Netanyahu can legally remain prime minister until a conviction in the trial, and after all appeals are exhausted. Therefore the ultra-Orthodox party has no problem recommending he remain in office, says Porush.
Gafni rails against the court system, claiming they “never ruled in favor of Judaism,” before the president cuts him off.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua says he and the former editor in chief of the news outlet, as well as other senior staff, developed a number of nicknames and codewords to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the skewed coverage that the website gave to him.
Yeshua says Netanyahu was sometimes called “Kim Jong Un,” North Korea’s dictator, around the office, while Sara Netanyahu was called “Ri Sol-ju,” Kim’s wife.
In addition, the former editor of Walla, Yinon Magal, would tell Yeshua that he was “delivering a kebab” when a positive news story was due to be published, while a “kebab with paprika” was the code for a negative story.
Yeshua says his employers Shaul and Iris Elovitch also had their own nicknames for various political figures.
According to the former Walla CEO, they called former finance minister Moshe Kahlon, who was born to Libyan immigrants, as “the Arab,” “the smiler” and “smiley,” while Naftali Bennett was referred to as “the naughty religious boy.” The Elovitches referred to Netanyahu as “my friend from Jerusalem.”
A 15-year-old boy has been pronounced dead after drowning in a river in the West Bank.
The boy dies at a hospital in Jerusalem, after drowning at Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt) in the Judean Desert.
The Labor party nominates Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form the next government.
That brings the number of Lapid backers to 32, while Netanyahu has 46 and Bennett has seven.
Labor MK Omer Barlev says Lapid is the head of the largest party opposed to Netanyahu and should therefore be tasked with forming a government. He also notes that Yesh Atid’s views are closer to Labor ideologically than those on the right.
Barlev urges all parties opposed to Netanyahu to put their differences aside and recommend Lapid as prime minister.
The Labor lawmaker says his party is willing to join a Lapid-led government with any political party and does not disqualify anyone — except for Netanyahu.
The consultations, now at the halfway point, are set to break for two hours. At 4 p.m., Yisrael Beytenu will head to the President’s Residence, followed by Religious Zionism, Joint List, New Hope, Meretz and Ra’am.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua says he believed that the orders for his website’s skewed coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family came from the premier directly and were part of a quid pro quo for certain regulatory favors for his employers, the telecommunications tycoons Shaul and Iris Elovitch.
“Shaul, Iris, Nir [Hefetz], Zeev [Rubinstein], Shai Haik” — who allegedly acted as intermediaries between the prime minister’s family and Walla — “made statements or comments that ‘she was happy,’” referring to Sara Netanyahu “or ‘they were pleased,’” Yeshua says, referring to the couple.
Yeshua says there were also cases of the Elovitches explicitly calling for articles critical of the premier to be taken down because of an upcoming regulatory decision and that there was a clear exchange taking place.
“Elovitch would say, ‘take that down, tomorrow he needs to sign off on Yes,’” Yeshua says, referring to a television provider Elovitch owned.
Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua explains why his website also provided favorable coverage to Sara Netanyahu when only her husband the prime minister could grant them regulatory favors.
“What was said about the reason why you needed to listen to the demands of Sara Netanyahu?” prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh asks Yeshua.
He explains that Shaul and Iris Elovitch believed that it was necessary to keep Sara Netanyahu happy in order to get favors from her husband.
“If she gets upset, he’ll get upset, and if he gets upset, he’ll cause damage. They would say things like that, that she is the most important thing to him,” Yeshua says.
After Tirosh asked the question, Yeshua hesitated before answering, prompting one of Netanyahu’s lawyers, Amit Hadad, to say wryly, “One second, it takes time to make something up.”
Former Walla editor-in-chief Yinon Magal compares his former boss Ilan Yeshua, who is testifying in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, to Yigal Amir, who assassinated former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“Ilan Yeshua won’t be the first Yemenite to bring down a prime minister,” Magal tweets, referring to Amir, who was also the son of Yemenite parents, later clarifying that the comment was satire.
Yeshua has repeatedly referred to his former employee in his testimony, speaking of Magal in glowing terms.
“Yinon Magal was a major contribution to the website,” Yeshua said, when referring to the hiring of Magal in 2012.
Yeshua also says in his testimony that Magal routinely railed against the skewed coverage that Walla was forced by its owners, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, to give to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family as part of an alleged quid pro quo for regulatory favors for their company, the Bezeq telecommunications firm.
Iran claims an Israeli spy has been captured in the country’s East Azerbaijan Province, according to local news reports.
Several other agents have also been apprehended, the reports say.
The government’s pandemic coordinator, Nachman Ash, says the requirement to wear masks outdoors will likely be dropped from next week as virus cases ebb.
He makes the comment in an interview with the Ynet news site.
Ash says most experts at a Health Ministry meeting yesterday backed the policy change. Another meeting will be held on the issue soon, he says.
Ash says masks will still be required indoors and at gatherings.
The first day of testimony in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial comes to an end.
The court proceedings will resume on Tuesday morning.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in Jordan on his way to Germany, the official Palestinian Authority mouthpiece WAFA reports.
Abbas took advantage of his time in the Jordanian capital Amman to issue a statement expressing support for the Jordanian government, which has seen increasing turmoil recently following an internal power struggle.
“When these events occurred, we saw the whole world, without exception, standing by Jordan and by His Majesty, and this is evidence of the great respect and great interest in this peaceful and secure country, for which we always wish safety and security,” Abbas says.
Jordanian officials have described this weekend’s events as an attempted coup; those accused of plotting against the current regime have denied the accusations.
The US Centers for Disease Control is falsely claiming there’s a “very high level” of COVID-19 infection in Israel and urging Americans to avoid travel there, after placing the Jewish state, West Bank and Gaza in the same category in a travel advisory.
“Very High Level of COVID-19 in Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza,” it says, urging even fully vaccinated Americans to avoid those areas.
Israel’s daily virus caseload has plummeted with over half the country fully immunized. There are currently 5,232 active cases, the lowest number since June 2020. Virus cases among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza remain high, however.
Non-Israelis are not currently being allowed into the country, with humanitarian exceptions, rendering the advisory mostly moot.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu recommends that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid be tasked with forming the next coalition.
But, adds Liberman, “if we see [later on in the coalition-building process] that there’s another candidate who has a better chance, we won’t boycott anyone and we’ll support anyone to prevent a fifth election, it doesn’t matter who it is.”
“We won’t support Netanyahu. I think we must end his rule,” adds Liberman.
His endorsement brings Lapid’s backers to 39; Netanyahu’s to 46; Bennett’s to 7.
Liberman criticizes Netanyahu for Israel’s economic crisis, 6,000 deaths from the pandemic, and political deadlock.
If Netanyahu would step aside, any Likud member could form a government, says Liberman.
President Reuven repeats that he’s still skeptical a government will be formed.
He appears to chide Liberman for comments he made in the past against the ultra-Orthodox, saying he was asked to convey that the Haredim were hurt by his criticism.
During his consultations with the president, Liberman calls for a “liberal, Zionist” government to be formed by the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, from the right-wing Yamina to left-wing Meretz.
Pressed by Rivlin on how such a disparate government — which does not appear to have a majority — could be formed, Liberman declines to comment.
“There is one solution, that Netanyahu moves aside” and lets another Likud member lead, says Liberman, adding that he’s also working on “creative” alternatives.
Rivlin notes Netanyahu has no intention of resigning and says he fears Israel is heading to its fifth election in two years.
“The math is like this: Either there is 61 or there isn’t,” says Rivlin.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to deliver a public statement at 5:30 p.m., following the first day of testimony in his corruption trial.
Italy will allow passengers from the United Kingdom, Austria and Israel to undergo a shorter, five-day quarantine on entering the country under new regulations that take effect on Tuesday.
From April 7-30, these travelers can forgo a two-week quarantine to enter Italy.
The three countries have been included in a list of over 30 countries, most in the European Union, in which the mandatory quarantine is shortened to five days from 14.
The new rules take effect Tuesday reflect, in part, the progress of vaccination campaigns in Israel and Britain.
In Austria, however, the two-week quarantine is still in effect for those from the Tyrol, where the South African coronavirus variant has been circulating.
People from countries on the list with fewer restrictions still have to submit a negative test taken within 48 hours of arrival in Italy, and take a second test following their five-day quarantine.
The far-right Religious Zionism party endorses Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister.
Its six votes bring Netanyahu’s backers to 52. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has 39 and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has seven. No single candidate is expected to pick up 61 nominations, a majority.
The Joint List has swapped places with the left-wing Meretz and will meet with President Reuven Rivlin later this evening to recommend a candidate for prime minister, according to Hebrew media reports.
The reason: The predominantly Arab party is waiting to see whether New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will recommend Yair Lapid for premier, which could push them to also back the Yesh Atid leader. Most of the Arab politicians had indicated earlier that they would abstain. It’s unclear whether Sa’ar will nominate Lapid, Yamina leader Bennett, or no one.
Netanyahu alleges ‘coup attempt,’ ‘trampling of democracy,’ after 1st day of testimony in his graft trial
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, responding to the first day of testimony against him in his corruption trial, rails against the prosecution, accusing it of “hypocrisy” and conducting a “witch hunt” against him.
He specifically derides lead prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari’s charge, in her opening arguments, that the prime minister abused his powers.
“What hypocrisy. The entire conduct against me is heavy-handed improper use of the powers of… the prosecution,” Netanyahu says in a televised statement.
“The prosecution opened the investigations against the prime minister against the law,” says Netanyahu, referring to the attorney general’s apparent failure to approve the probe in writing.
“It’s a witch hunt. They didn’t investigate a crime, they didn’t look for a crime; they hunted for a man, they hunted me.”
He says investigators ignored testimony that didn’t match their thesis, leaked material, and extorted witnesses.
“This is how they try to overthrow a powerful prime minister from the right. This is what an attempt at a coup looks like,” says the prime minister. “What is happening is an effort to trample democracy, over and over again. They are attempting to annul the will of the electorate.”
He says he hopes the trial will be conducted differently from the investigation.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz hits back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tirade against the state prosecution, following the premier’s appearance at his corruption trial.
Netanyahu, at a press conference, accused prosecutors of trying to remove him from power, alleging an attempted “coup” and a “witch hunt” against him.
“Netanyahu proved tonight that he is not fit to serve as prime minister, and he is the one who is trying to carry out a government coup. His attack against the State Attorney’s Office was intended for one purpose — to delegitimize the outcome of the trial and attempt to gain unlimited power. I call on all factions to unite and find a way to replace him,” tweets Gantz.
If Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope endorses Yair Lapid for prime minister, Arab politicians may follow, Hebrew media reports. That could result in Lapid receiving more endorsements than Benjamin Netanyahu, likely giving him first shot at forming a government.
Netanyahu currently has 52 backers, while Lapid has 39. The left-wing Meretz has said it will back Lapid, bringing him up to 45. New Hope’s six seats could bring him up to 51, and some members of the Joint List are reportedly considering backing Lapid to tip the balance if New Hope backs him.
New Hope has said it won’t back Lapid or Netanyahu for premier. It remains unclear whether leader Gideon Sa’ar will change his mind, endorse Yamina leader Bennett, or abstain.
The left-wing Meretz party recommends that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid form the next government, bringing the number of endorsements for the centrist leader to 45.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz expresses confidence Lapid could form a government of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far received 52 votes, while Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has seven.
A Likud official, in a briefing to Hebrew media, claims New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar is set to endorse Yair Lapid for prime minister shortly.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who nominated himself for premier earlier today, must change his vote to Benjamin Netanyahu or he will enable the establishment of a “left-wing government led by Lapid and the Joint List,” the official says.
The left-wing Meretz says it is open to a coalition led by Yair Lapid in which right-wing parties Yisrael Beytenu, Yamina, and New Hope are partners.
But leader Nitzan Horowitz rules out any partnerships with Likud or the far-right Religious Zionism.
Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party endorses no one for prime minister.
New Hope MK Yifat Shasha-Biton says the right-wing party backs a rotational premiership between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, but says their inability to reach an agreement on the matter has prompted the party to abstain.
She urges President Reuven Rivlin to invite both Lapid and Bennett to work out an agreement, after which New Hope would back one of them.
The abstention means Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely pick up the most nominations, unless the Joint List and Ra’am endorse Lapid. Netanyahu currently has 52 backers, Yair Lapid has 45, and Yamina’s Bennett has seven.
President Reuven Rivlin declines New Hope MK Yifat Shasha-Biton’s proposal that he broker a premiership agreement between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.
Such a move would be “political intervention,” he says.
A rabbi of a yeshiva in Jerusalem is arrested after a teenage student dies by drowning in the West Bank, apparently during a school trip.
The rabbi is suspected of negligence after the teenager’s death at Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt).
The Joint List will not endorse a candidate for prime minister.
Leader Ayman Odeh says his party opposes Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, not merely because of his corruption trial, but primarily because of Israel’s control over the Palestinians, the prime minister’s economic policies, and his attempts to undermine the country’s democracy.
Odeh says he respects Yair Lapid, noting the Yesh Atid leader’s statement during the election campaign that the Joint List could join a coalition. But Lapid’s emerging partnerships with right-wing parties, namely Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, means the Joint List could not endorse him, says Odeh.
He says they are still willing to endorse Lapid, but only if he does not partner with right-wing parties. Lapid has no chance of forming a government without the right-wing Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beytenu.
MK Ahmad Tibi says Lapid is a “worthy candidate.”
Tibi says the Joint List hoped to be the “decisive vote” on which candidate would get first shot at forming a coalition.
“If every one of our votes had been decisive, we would have voted [for a candidate],” says Tibi.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid confirms that he has offered Yamina leader Naftali Bennett a deal for a joint government that would see the right-wing leader serve as prime minister first in rotation of the premiership.
“Anyone who saw Netanyahu’s irresponsible appearance today understands that he can’t continue. He has become dangerous — to himself, to the State of Israel and to the rule of law,” says Lapid in a live statement, referring to the prime minister’s speech against the prosecution.
Lapid says that he has been negotiating with Bennett on forming a government that includes left-wing, centrist, and right-wing parties. Lapid’s Yesh Atid won 17 seats in the election, while Bennett won seven.
“We are committed to bringing about the change we promised to the people of Israel. To prevent a government led by a criminal suspect and dependent on racists and extremists. The test for a leader is to take tough decisions in complex situations. I offered Bennett a unity government in which he could serve first in the rotation between us. That’s what the country needs now. The Israeli public needs to see that its leaders can work together.”
Lapid adds: “I call upon all the parties and leaders who promised change. Netanyahu will do everything he can to break you. He’ll look for those who will abandon their party, he’ll look to break parties apart. Don’t let him. He doesn’t have a government. He doesn’t have a majority. He’s a hostage in the hands of the extremists. It’s a long game and whoever will be determined enough, patient enough and focused enough will win.
“We don’t give up and never will, there has never been a more justified political fight, and it will end only when we win.”
The Islamist Ra’am party, seen as a potential kingmaker in the wake of the March 23 election, does not recommend either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for prime minister.
But while abstaining, leader Mansour Abbas says that he is open to negotiations with any candidate who is ultimately tasked with forming a government.
“We tried to prevent the fourth elections and we will try to prevent the fifth elections,” he says, underlining that he supports the establishment of a government.
Ra’am, which has four seats, has previously expressed a desire to work together with either Netanyahu or his rivals — whichever offered a better deal benefiting Arab Israelis. Right-wing politicians in both blocs have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.
With Ra’am’s abstention, the consultations with the president end.
Netanyahu has received 52 recommendations, Lapid picked up 45, and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has the backing of his seven party members.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears well-placed to be granted the first opportunity to try form a government, despite failing to gather 61 recommendations.
The Likud leader picked up 52 nominations during Monday’s consultations with President Reuven Rivlin, seven more than his main rival Yair Lapid, while Naftali Bennett endorsed himself as prime minister with the backing of his seven-member party. The New Hope, Joint List and Ra’am parties, accounting for 16 of the 120 votes, abstained.
Rivlin will announce the candidate by Wednesday. Throughout the day, the president has hinted that “ethical considerations” could see him give the job to someone other than Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, though he also expressed concerns that the presidency could be undermined if his steps are viewed as political intervention.
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