Netanyahu campaign said to hire intel firm that sparred with Blue and White

Likud denies it recruited CGI group to dig up dirt on Gantz, whose party used the outfit ahead of September election, producing report on phone hacks that was leaked to press

Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, during an elections campaign event in Petah Tikva on March 13, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, during an elections campaign event in Petah Tikva on March 13, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party election campaign reportedly hired a private intelligence firm that had a public falling out with the rival Blue and White party to dig up dirt on its leader, Benny Gantz.

The business daily TheMarker reported Tuesday that an unnamed individual “extremely close to the Netanyahu family” contacted the company, CGI Group, looking for compromising information on Gantz.

An unnamed organization “connected to the Likud party” was to pay for CGI’s services, but it is not known whether the payment, estimated at several hundred thousand shekels, has been made.

Likud on Tuesday evening denied hiring the firm.

CGI was at the heart of reports in August, just weeks ahead of the September 17, 2019 election, that the phones of Gantz and other Blue and White party leaders were hacked by Russian intelligence.

The firm was hired by Blue and White to help it track down party officials who were leaking embarrassing recordings of party leaders to the press. But the company’s actions were later seen as a bigger setback for the Blue and White campaign than the original problem it was hired to solve.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

CGI’s phone hacking report leaked to the media, and quickly became part of Likud’s campaign trying to depict Gantz as an ineffectual leader.

A report by Channel 12 in August called the alleged hacking attack “intense and unusual,” and said it had delivered to the attackers the entire contents of the personal phones of Gantz, his chief of staff Hod Betzer, campaign manager Ido Har-Tov and campaign adviser Ronen Moshe.

Gantz at the time savaged the Channel 12 report, calling it false and charging that CGI’s report — and its leak to the press — was a political ambush, and that the suggestion of a breach was examined by a separate information security firm and “found to be incorrect.”

At the time, CGI’s president, former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri, defended his company’s work.

“We notified [Blue and White leaders] about 4-5 ‘infected’ telephones and advised contacting the police. We didn’t specifically talk about Russia. We spoke of a hostile entity — almost certainly from Eastern Europe.”

Peri previously served as a lawmaker for the Yesh Atid party, which is part of the Blue and White alliance, before he was ousted from his Knesset role over false claims about his military record.

Then-Knesset member Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, at a meeting in the Knesset on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to TheMarker, after the fight between Blue and White and CGI Group had died down, a representative of the Likud campaign reached out to the firm to ascertain whether it was willing to engage in corporate espionage against its one-time client, including by providing information gained from its time advising the centrist party.

The company was reportedly asked to look into Blue and White’s dealings with a campaigning firm it had hired, the journal said, but did not provide details as to why those dealings might provide fodder for the party’s opponents.

In recent days, Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair has tweeted claims about the alleged content found on Gantz’s phone by hackers, including sexually explicit videos.

Yair Netanyahu has occasionally tweeted false information during the campaign later denied by Likud officials.

Likud has also focused significant campaign resources on depicting Gantz in an unfavorable light.

It is not clear if the current bout of tweets reflects information from CGI, or, lacking verifiable and compromising information against Gantz, constitutes an attempt to start negative rumors in the last week of the campaign.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed