Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev used a Knesset speech Wednesday to offer a vigorous defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against what she described as a media vendetta against him.
She said a new poll commissioned by her Likud party proves that the public is not stupid and does not believe the reports, since she said it shows support for the prime minister’s party has grown. Her defense was notable, given the relative silence of other top Likud officials in the wake of the most recent scandal.
Her remarks came as police were interviewing several central figures in the Bezeq corruption case, including former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber, who on Tuesday signed a deal to turn state witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair. Regev claimed the media had been hounding the prime minister for decades.
Speaking to an almost empty Knesset, Regev addressed the media.
“That is your approach. Every half leak immediately becomes the main headline and a public indictment,” said the culture minister. “You also know that Netanyahu is not involved in the Bezeq case… but you still lead with a big picture of him to manipulate the public. But you have one problem — the public is not buying it.”
She quoted a poll commissioned by her Likud party showing that if elections were held today, the party would grow from its current 30 seats to 34. “This should teach you that the public is not stupid,” she said. “The public understands that there is a witch hunt which you have undertaken for the past 22 years.” (Independent polls show support for Netanyahu’s Likud holding fairly firm, with the party heading for 27 seats were elections held today according to a Channel 10 survey taken on Wednesday.)
Mocking the four police investigations into Netanyahu and those close to him, labelled Cases 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000, Regev began with a joke about a future investigation.
“I have to update you, just now Case 7000 has been published with serious allegations against teacher Shoshana, a kindergarten teacher who apparently gave Netanyahu an extra cookie at the end of the kindergarten,” she said. “At this moment, researchers are investigating if that is the reason that she is still a kindergarten teacher to this day. Tomorrow, a photograph of Netanyahu with the cookie will be published in all the newspapers.”
Her speech came a day after Filber signed a deal to become state witness. He has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by the premier to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which he owns.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are also expected to be questioned in the probe, reportedly as suspects.
Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in two other cases.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two personal aides, have been arrested or questioned.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.