PMO dismisses TV report's 'skewed' leaks of testimony

‘Miriam Adelson: Sara Netanyahu said it would be my fault if Iran nuked Israel’

In reported transcripts from police graft probe, Israel Hayom publisher Miriam Adelson details souring of ties with Netanyahus, with PM’s wife blaming her for not protecting him

American billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson (R) and his wife Miriam meet Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, May 13, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90/File)
American billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson (R) and his wife Miriam meet Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, May 13, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90/File)

The publisher of the Israel Hayom tabloid, a key backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly told police that her relationship with the premier and his wife Sara deteriorated over incessant complaints about how the couple were being covered in the free daily.

In leaked transcripts published by Channel 12 news, Miriam Adelson, Israel’s richest woman, describes a relationship that devolved from friendly into “constant complaints” and even “screams on the phone” on the part of the Netanyahus, mostly Sara, to the point where Miriam Adelson would set the receiver down so she wouldn’t have to hear the shouting.

According to Adelson, Sara Netanyahu went as far as telling her that it would be her fault if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel and wiped out the country.

The leak is the latest in a series of transcripts leaked to Channel 12 from the three corruption investigations surrounding the prime minister, which have turned Channel 12’s legal affairs correspondent Guy Peleg into a favored target in right-wing denunciations of the media in the current election campaign.

Adelson was questioned as a witness by police in an investigation dubbed “Case 2000,” involving a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes beginning in 2009 that would have seen Benjamin Netanyahu weaken Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s main rival, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Under the alleged agreement, which was not implemented, the prime minister offered to advance legislation to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom by outlawing freebie newspapers — if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.

A man passes out the free newspaper Israel Hayom to passersby on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, January 4, 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

When news of the alleged deal first broke three years ago, it reportedly angered Miriam Adelson’s husband Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who was then the newspaper’s publisher, and led to a breach between Benjamin Netanyahu and his most powerful patron.

In the latest transcripts, however, Miriam Adelson’s statements suggest the rift began earlier.

The leaked part of the transcript, as reported on Channel 12 Thursday night, begins with Adelson.

Miriam Adelson: “At first she [Sara Netanyahu] was very nice. Impressive. An intelligent woman. And after that I don’t know what she was. You ask her what she expected from us. But slowly, slowly it became… only complaints. A picture of her [in Israel Hayom] was too small. They didn’t write about something — [her] visiting children with cancer or something… Always complaints. All the time… It started to be unpleasant… We would listen… listen and not answer. Out of respect for the prime minister and his wife.”

The investigator asks: “He [Benjamin Netanyahu] also complained?”

Amos Regev, then-editor in chief of the Israel Hayom daily, arrives for questioning in ‘Case 2000’ at the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 corruption investigation unit in Lod, January 17, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Adelson: “Sure… that Amos [Regev, former Israel Hayom editor] is a wimp, a weakling… She didn’t like Amos. She really didn’t like Amos.”

Investigator: “How did [Benjamin] Netanyahu respond? What did he want from the two of you? What did he complain about?”

Adelson: “That we don’t protect him. That everyone attacks him… all the other press besmirch him, one after the other, especially before elections.”

Investigator: “And what did he want you to do?”

Adelson: “I don’t know. They always found something new that wasn’t okay [in Israel Hayom’s reporting], that we weren’t okay… She would say, ‘They’re dragging me through the mud.'”

Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson at the ceremony marking the establishment of a new Faculty of Medicine at Ariel University in the West Bank, on August 19, 2018. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

Investigator: “How were you doing that?”

Adelson: “We weren’t defending her over something. She’d already told me once that if Iran gets nuclear weapons and Israel is wiped out, it’ll be my fault because I don’t protect Bibi.”

Investigator: “That didn’t outrage you?”

Adelson: “I got sick of hearing it, and that was it. We don’t visit them anymore. We got sick of hearing it. It happened gradually, yes?”

Adelson went on, “There were phone calls to America with screams. When there were screams, when I’d hear a high pitched voice, I’d simply put the receiver down. You could hear the screams that way too. When the screaming died down — it could be 5, 10 minutes — then I’d pick up the receiver again. I wouldn’t listen to the screams, okay? It wasn’t pleasant. But out of respect for the prime minister, and it was mostly from her end, I simply didn’t respond. I didn’t answer.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at a celebratory Likud event in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Investigator: “And there were things they demanded of you that you did on their behalf with regard to Israel Hayom?”

Adelson: “One time I remember saying to Amos, ‘Come on, put [in a picture] so she’ll leave [the prime minister] alone,’ so he can function. There’s problems with Iran now because he can’t function if she’s driving him crazy all day.”

The Prime Minister’s Office slammed the Channel 12 report Thursday, saying, “These are more skewed, gossipy, tabloid leaks, published on the eve of elections in order to harm Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud. At least the public now knows how a quarter million shekels were wasted investigating the prime minister.”

Since its founding a decade ago, Israel Hayom has consistently supported the prime minister, openly playing down his failures, hyping his achievements and lashing his critics. Furthermore, it has shied away from praising his rivals.

Forced by a Supreme Court order to reveal the dates of his phone calls with Israel Hayom’s owner and editor, the prime minister reported in 2017 that between 2012 and 2015 he had spoken with Sheldon Adelson almost once a week, and nearly twice that often with then-Israel Hayom editor Amos Regev — with various media reports claiming the conversations were focused on coordinating the paper’s coverage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Ramat Gan on August 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to a police indictment recommendation submitted to state prosecutors last year, “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings [beginning in 2009] during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests.”

Police also said that while Netanyahu did not carry out the actions he allegedly suggested to curb Israel Hayom, he and Mozes “took real, active steps in advancing each other’s interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least they tried to make it seem to each other as if they were acting that way.”

The prime minister allegedly offered to back various measures, from closing Israel Hayom to helping to shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers and nixing the free daily’s weekend edition. A 2015 bill outlawing freebie newspapers, drafted by Labor party lawmaker Eitan Cabel, never became law because the government collapsed and called new elections before the bill had passed.

The prime minister will face his pre-indictment hearing before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the case on October 2-3. The hearing will cover two additional corruption probes in which he is a main suspect, known as cases 1000 and 4000. He faces expected charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three, and bribery in Case 4000.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors.

In Case 4000, seen as the most serious of the three, the prime minister is suspected of offering regulatory benefits to the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage of him and his family in the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him.

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