Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hesitated in reaching a deal with a dominant local media mogul because he was worried about crossing powerful Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who he referred to as the “gingy” (redhead) in secret recordings, an Israeli TV report said Friday.
The revelations come as damning leaks continue to flow from an ongoing investigation into Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, with new excerpts quoted Friday from meetings in 2014 where they tried to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal. Netanyahu and Mozes are said to have had multiple meetings. Of these, two two-hour meetings were recorded by Netanyahu — one by his then-chief of staff, Ari Harow, on a mobile phone, and one on an executive tape recorder, Channel 2 said.
Police are inclined to recommend indicting Netanyahu in this case, as well as in a separate investigation into alleged illicit benefits from businessmen, Channel 10 news reported Friday night. It quoted a senior police source adding, however, that the investigations were still ongoing. Mozes is to be questioned again early next week, it said, and Netanyahu is then likely to be questioned a third time. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu and Mozes were allegedly discussing a deal, which was never implemented, that would have seen the prime minister work to reduce the circulation of the Israel Hayom daily newspaper — Yedioth’s biggest rival — in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth.
Adelson is the driving force behind Israel Hayom, which is seen as stridently pro-Netanyahu. Yedioth is often hostile to the prime minister in its coverage.
According to a partial transcript of the recordings reported by Channel 2 on Friday, Mozes asks Netanyahu, regarding the means to reduce the impact of Israel Hayom: “What’s the bottom line? How do we do it quickly?”
“We can legislate it,” Netanyahu replies, referring to a law by which Israel Hayom’s influence can be curbed, but then he hedges. “I want to talk to the gingy, who is in Israel in two weeks,” he says.
Channel 2 explained that investigators say “gingy” is a reference Adelson. The term “gingy” is often used as a nickname in Israel for redheads like Adelson.
“We need to see how we can do something (legislatively) that he (Adelson) can live with; maybe a different law,” Mozes says, according to the transcript.
“In my opinion, he (Adelson) won’t be OK, but…,” Netanyahu says, indicating he might go ahead, nevertheless, and cross his benefactor.
The two men go on to discuss who might initiate the Knesset legislation that would reduce Yedioth’s influence. Mozes raises the name of Likud legislator “Yariv” (Levin). Netanyahu says, no, he’ll get “someone else.”
Mozes asks him which Knesset committee might handle the legislation. Netanyahu suggests a “special committee” will be set up to do so.
Noting that some in Netanyahu’s circles have said he recorded the meetings because he feared Mozes was trying or would try to extort him, Channel said it was plain from the conversations that this was not the case.
So comfortable was Netanyahu that he even offered Mozes a cigar; ironically, Netanyahu’s cigars are the subject of a separate graft investigation. Mozes declined, saying he doesn’t smoke, Channel 2 said.
Channel 2’s report stressed the “practical” nature of the recorded conversations — that these were conversations between two men “at ease” with each other, working seriously on an arrangement to their mutual benefit. In an excerpt quoted earlier this week, Mozes set out the idea as follows: “If we can come to an agreement on the law, I will do all I can to make sure you stay here (in power) as long as you want. I’m looking you in the eye, and saying this as clearly as I can.”
Channel 2 said on Friday that Jerusalem prosecutors are adamant that the deal allegedly being cooked up should lead to an indictment for Netanyahu as an illegal quid pro quo, but one of the TV station’s commentators said his well-placed legal sources do not believe it will lead to an indictment.
It appears that the recordings were found at Harow’s home by police during a separate investigation into suspicions that Harow had fabricated the sale of a consulting company he owned. Harow, who headed the Prime Minister’s Office from 2014 to early 2015, is expected to be charged in the coming weeks, Haaretz reported Tuesday.
Channel 2 also reported Friday that Netanyahu, in his attempts to ensure Yedioth’s editorial coverage was more to his taste, attempted to initiate or broker a deal under which Mozes would sell partial or full ownership in the paper to a consortium of German businessmen identified by the prime minister. This, too, never came to fruition.
Casino magnate Adelson is a staunch supporter of Netanyahu. He has been cited frequently in media reports and widely represented by both critics and supporters as Israel Hayom’s owner. However, last year, his lawyers told Israel’s Supreme Court that he does not own the paper, but a relative does.
In Israel, the paper is widely considered to be a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. Because it is given out free it has quickly developed the largest circulation in the country, harming Yedioth, which had the main position until then.
Adelson told the Macau Daily Times in January 2016 that no one from his family has ever told journalists working at Israel Hayom what to write.
“We have about 200 journalists at the Israel Today [the English name for Israel Hayom] newspaper. You could call any one of them and you say, ‘Did anybody from the Adelson family ever tell you what to write or what not to write?’ and they will tell you, ‘No.’ If somebody’s going to write something bad about me and there’s no justification for it, I won’t know about it until after it’s done,” he said.
Adelson, 83, is noted for his right-wing views. In November 2014, he told the Israeli American Council in Washington that “the Palestinians are an invented people” and that “the purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel.”
Mozes, often described as a long-time arch-nemesis of the prime minister, is reportedly being investigated under caution by police, along with Netanyahu, over their dealings.
The prime minister has been questioned by police twice in the past two weeks over those negotiations, as well as over a separate case involving gifts given to him by businessmen. Mozes reportedly faced police questioning for the first time early last week.