Reporter covering PM graft probes assigned security detail

Netanyahu accuses Channel 12 owners of ‘terror attack against democracy’

Comments come day after PM called for boycott of outlet, which has published extensive leaks from criminal cases against him; commentators warn PM’s attacks risk prompting violence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone ceremony for the Mobileye campus in Jerusalem on August 27, 2019. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone ceremony for the Mobileye campus in Jerusalem on August 27, 2019. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night stepped up his attacks on Channel 12 over its coverage of the criminal cases he is a suspect in, taking aim at the channel’s owners and senior executives.

In a live Facebook video, the prime minister named Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet, the operator of Channel 12; Avi Weiss, the CEO of Keshet’s news company; and major Keshet shareholders Yitzhak Tshuva and Drorit Wertheim. He accused them of carrying out a “terror attack against democracy” by “pulling the strings” of Channel 12 crime reporter Guy Peleg, who has broadcast extensive leaks from the cases against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu claimed that the four executives had a vendetta against him because “they think I’m trying to break up their monopoly.” He did not specify what monopoly he was referring to.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday that Channel 12 news had decided to assign Peleg a security detail in light of recent threats against him on social media.

Some of Sunday’s Hebrew dailies featured front-page commentaries on Netanyahu’s comments, with Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth deploring that Netanyahu, with his latest attacks on journalists, had learned nothing from the “tragic consequences of his campaign of incitement” prior to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. In a Haaretz front-page article, commentator Yossi Verter charged that Netanyahu would not rest “until blood is spilled, the blood of a journalist.”

Guy Peleg (Eyalbenyaish / Wikipedia)

The prime minister’s post Saturday night came a day after he called on Israelis to boycott Channel 12 and Keshet for its role in producing the HBO series “Our Boys,” which he labeled “anti-Semitic.” In a Facebook post, he wrote Israelis should stop watching the network for “its choice to tarnish us in the world with lies against the State of Israel.”

The post was accompanied by a graphic that included the logos of Channel 12 and its news division, with the words “fake news.”

“Our Boys” tells the story of the gruesome murder of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists in 2014. The series has been controversial in Israel for choosing to focus on that event while giving little attention to events that precipitated it — the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has regularly slammed Channel 12 for its extensive coverage of the cases he is a suspect in and has singled out for criticism a number of its reporters, especially Peleg, who was one of a number of journalists targeted in an election campaign by Likud earlier this year..

The control room in the Keshet broadcasting studio is seen on July 10, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Also on Friday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the prime minister’s lawyers had sent a letter to the broadcast authority, Channel 12 news and reporter Peleg, asking the network to look into what they alleged was the journalist’s intentional misquoting of transcripts to harm the premier.

Earlier this week, Channel 12 aired testimony from the most serious of the graft cases facing Netanyahu, in which a state’s witness described to investigators how the prime minister allegedly intervened in regulatory and other business decisions that benefited an Israeli tycoon by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Shlomo Filber, who was appointed by Netanyahu to be director of the Communication Ministry, testified to police that the prime minister personally told him that businessman Shaul Elovitch was not happy with the way reforms in the communications and internet sector were going, and indicated to Filber that he should do something about it, according to a Tuesday report.

Netanyahu’s personal Twitter account tweeted a response to the report describing Channel 12 as a “propaganda channel” and saying that the case “is a blood libel that is not based on facts or documents but rather on the lies of state witness Momo [Shlomo] Filber.”

The probe is the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, as it includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch — the majority shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, and the owner of the Walla news website — that continued for about four years until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s lengthy description of Netanyahu’s alleged illicit dealings with Elovitch, known as Case 4000, took up the majority of the 57-page document released in February in which Mandelblit set out the allegations that prompted him to announce a criminal indictment against the prime minister, pending a hearing.

A pre-indictment hearing for Elovitch and his wife, also a suspect, was held earlier this month.

Netanyahu is scheduled to attend his own pre-indictment hearing in the case on October 2-3, which will also cover two other corruption probes against him in which the prime minister faces additional fraud and breach of trust charges.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases.

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