Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a scathing attack Monday on the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and affiliated Ynet website, blaming publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes for being personally behind a recent series of stories claiming wrongdoing by Netanyahu and his wife Sara.
On his Facebook account, Netanyahu posted messages declaring that Mozes was engaged in a blatant and slanderous smear campaign against the Likud government with the goal of bringing about a change in power after the national elections, scheduled for March 17.
“The time has come to put things on the table,” Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on Facebook. “The main source behind the wave of slander against me and against my wife is Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet.”
“These two platforms [Yedioth and Ynet] are initiating and organizing ridiculous, false, and provocative smears against me and against my wife as part of a media campaign to replace the Likud government with a left-wing government,” the prime minister continued.
Netanyahu also claimed that Mozes was targeting the Israel Hayom free daily newspaper, which is seen as aligned with the prime minister and the Likud party.
“He is using all means to bring down the Likud government that is under my leadership, to close the Israel Hayom newspaper, and to return Yedioth to its crushing control over the printed news media,” Netanyahu wrote of Mozes.
Netanyahu noted, though, that he does not reject all media criticism.
“There are many in the media who are doing their jobs faithfully to criticize the government in a businesslike manner, even if it can be penetrating. But here we are talking about something else entirely: A businessman with many branches in the media is directing a systematic slur campaign against a serving prime minister, in order to change the government in Israel, for clear business interests and personal financial gain.”
The Hebrew-language Israel Hayom newspaper is owned by American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is a staunch supporter of Netanyahu. Adelson, worth an estimated $37 billion, is a noted contributor to the Republican Party, along with various pro-Israel and right-wing groups and such causes as Birthright and Yad Vashem.
A bill that was moving through the Knesset until the dissolving of parliament sought to enforce a price on Israel Hayom, which relies on its no-charge policy to maintain distribution numbers.
“Likud and I will not be deterred by these slurs,” Netanyahu asserted. “We will continue to struggle against any malicious smear for the sake of the security and prosperity of Israel. No one will stop us.”
Netanyahu and his wife Sara have been scrutinized amid persistent allegations of a lavish lifestyle funded by the state.
The two were criticized after a 2013 report uncovered the Netanyahus received an annual budget of 10,000 shekels ($2,568) for buying ice cream from a high-end gelateria near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. They were reported to have frequently ordered pistachio and vanilla ice cream.
The Netanyahus recently came under fire in a scandal dubbed Bottlegate after the prime minister’s wife was accused of bilking the state out of NIS 24,000 NIS by pocketing the refunds from bottle deposits during the first four years of her husband’s time in office.
The couple was also alleged to have spent NIS 100,000 ($25,679) of taxpayer money on alcohol in a two-year period, a claim derided by the Likud party as part of a left-wing plot “to bring down the prime minister.”
Netanyahu fired back against the media badgering in a tongue-in-cheek video clip published over the weekend in which he is seen receiving a steady stream of updates from his aide on ever more absurd media stories about him.
Eventually, the prime minister addresses his audience while seated at his desk, accusing his critics of trying to distract voters from more important matters.
“They want to shift your attention away from real things by dealing with nonsense, but we deal with real things,” Netanyahu states, addressing topics related to security and the economy.