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Uber lobbied Netanyahu, the PMO, ambassadors to overcome objections to legalizing its operations in Israel

A traveler gets in an Uber vehicle at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, November 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A traveler gets in an Uber vehicle at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, November 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Ride-hailing giant Uber sought the help of former ambassadors to Israel and the US and lobbied then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an ongoing Transportation Ministry investigation into its practices in Israel, a newly released major leak of documents shows.

The ride-sharing company also drafted its own proposed legislation for Knesset approval in its efforts to operate freely in the country amid tough regulations, according to the trove of leaked documents called The Uber Files obtained by British newspaper The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The documents, also made available to Israel’s Shomrim non-profit news organization and its investigative reporter Uri Blau, lay out how the company reached as high up as Netanyahu, who promised to “break the resistance” of then-transportation minister Israel Katz.

Eli Groner, who was at the time the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, helped the company tailor its message to the Israeli public and to local media outlets.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-finance minister Israel Katz attend the swearing-in of the new government, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The documents in question were shared with 180 journalists from 44 media outlets worldwide, including the Washington Post, Le Monde and the BBC, and detail the ride-sharing giant’s behind-the-scenes operations worldwide.

According to Shomrim, Uber drafted its own bill for the Knesset that would regulate its operations in Israel, and that legislation — with very few tweaks — was submitted to the Knesset three times by three MKs from different parties.

The company briefly operated in 2017 in Israel but was shut down after a court ruling that it could not use private drivers. It recently announced that it intends to rejoin the Israeli market sometime soon.

Globally, according to the Guardian, Uber “flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion.”

Its report says the leak of over 124,000 documents “lays bare the ethically questionable practices that fuelled the company’s transformation into one of Silicon Valley’s most famous exports.”

The documents cover the 2013-17 period, when Uber was run by co-founder Travis Kalanick, who used “brute force” in his efforts to expand the cab-hailing service worldwide, the Guardian writes, “even if that meant breaching laws and taxi regulations.”

In response, Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for Uber, acknowledges “mistakes” and “missteps” that she says culminated five years ago in “one of the most infamous reckonings in the history of corporate America.”

Uber has since “completely changed how it operates,” she says, noting that Kalanick and other top executives were ousted.

She adds: “We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values.”

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