Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the government should take legislative action against the leaking of recordings, such as the one published earlier this week in which his son Yair was heard making disparaging comments about women during a night of excess in a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs.
The explosive recordings of the younger Netanyahu, published Monday by Hadashot TV news, also featured him trying to parlay, apparently in jest, a gas deal worth billions of dollars to get cash for strippers from a gas tycoon’s son.
Hadashot news had paid NIS 50,000 ($15,000) for the tapes, which were rejected by a number of other news organizations, Walla reported Thursday.
The airing of the tapes sent shock waves through Israel’s political system, with opposition members saying they suggest corruption on the part of the prime minister, and Netanyahu’s office deriding their publication as part of a witch hunt.
During a cabinet discussion on Thursday, Netanyahu told Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that law enforcement bodies should examine the legality of the leaking, Hebrew media reported.
“It is wrong for there to be no system protecting us,” Netanyahu said. “It is time for your justice system to start acting and defending us. This is serious. It happened today with Yair Netanyahu and tomorrow it will happen to [Culture Minister Miri] Regev, to [Finance Minister Moshe] Kahlon and to others.”
Earlier, Regev told the ministers that an investigation should be opened into the leaking. “We can’t be hostages. We are being threatened, and they are even trying to profit from selling it to the media. We can’t become punching bags to be attacked at any given moment,” she said.
Netanyahu thanked Regev and told Shaked that “this crosses red lines from a security perspective, and no less than that, it also crosses red lines from a media perspective.”
Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin agreed the leaking crossed a red line and said they would look into drafting a law that would protect ministers from such recordings.
In December 2016, Netanyahu floated the idea of legislation that would require two-party consent to all recordings of phone calls and conversations.
Current law requires that at least one party to a conversation be aware of, and give permission for, a recording. Any recording without knowledge of any of the parties is considered illegal wiretapping under Israeli law and is punishable by a maximum of five years in jail.
Netanyahu at the time proposed requiring the consent of both parties to any recording that would be broadcast or used as evidence in court
A spokesperson for Netanyahu declined Thursday to say whether the prime minister knew of the existence of the tapes of his son when he raised the proposal a year and a half ago.
The recording, apparently made two and a half years ago, captured conversations between then-25-year-old Yair Netanyahu; Nir Maimon, the son of gas magnate Koby Maimon; and Roman Abramov, a friend of the younger Netanyahu, who has been in the news recently in connection with police investigations into Prime Minister Netanyahu’s relationship with Australian gambling tycoon James Packer.
In one of the investigations against the prime minister, known as Case 1000, police are probing expensive gifts given to the Netanyahu family by Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, and actions they suspect he took on their behalf. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing in the case.
Guy Peleg, the Hadashot reporter who aired the story, underscored Thursday in an interview with Galei Israel radio that the recordings included sections that Hadashot had opted not to publish. He said there was a “very sensitive” issue with those sections, but added that they could be aired in the future.
Yair Netanyahu has called the report on the tape “biased and shameful,” and claimed the recordings were illegally obtained. He also apologized for the behavior captured in the recordings.
“In that late-night conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I said foolish things about women and other foolish things that would have been better left unsaid,” he said. “These words do not represent who I am, the values I was raised on, or the principles I believe in. I regret saying them and apologize if anyone was offended by them.”
In the recording, Yair Netanyahu and Nir Maimon can be heard joking about the prime minister’s ties to the elder Maimon and his ostensible immense profit from a multi-billion-dollar gas deal between private companies and the state.
“Bro, you have to spot me. My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro,” Yair Netanyahu says.
“You owe us, you owe us NIS 25,000 ($7,255),” Abramov interjects.
Yair Netanyahu continues: “Bro, my dad now arranged a $20 billion show for you and you can’t spot me NIS 400 ($116)?”
Yair Netanyahu, like the prime minister, specifically denied the implication that the gas deal had been negotiated with the intention to benefit Koby Maimon.
“The things I said about Nir Maimon were nothing but a bad joke aimed at mocking him, and any sane person understands that,” he insisted. “I have never taken interest in the gas deal, nor have any understanding of its details.”
But, responding to the recordings, Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay said that Yair Netanyahu’s friendship with Nir Maimon may suggest a deeper connection between the prime minister and Koby Maimon that could have affected the negotiations over the gas deal.
“When I fought from within the government against the corrupt gas deal, I said that it was clear to me that there was something bigger that was being kept from us,” Gabbay, who resigned as a cabinet minister in 2016, said.
“I can tell you that the exuberance with which [Benjamin] Netanyahu handed out bonuses of millions of dollars on our account to the owners of Tamar seemed very odd to me,” Gabbay added sardonically. “I never understood what pushed him to act against the interest of the public and in favor of Teshuva, Nobel and Maimon.”