‘That’s what the prime minister wants’: Walla editor says he was instructed to skew coverage

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

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.

Former Walla editor Ilan Yeshua enters a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his corruption trial, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

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.