Netanyahus tried to push moguls to fund Israeli version of Fox News — report

Couple said to have tried to convince billionaires Arnon Milchen, James Packer and Rupert Murdoch to invest $25 million each in new right-wing news channel

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch (YouTube screen capture)
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch (YouTube screen capture)

Israeli police are looking into suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara tried to get billionaires Arnon Milchen, James Packer and Rupert Murdoch to invest $25 million each in a new Israeli right-wing commercial TV channel, Channel 2 News reported Tuesday.

The business daily The Marker had previously published that the Netanyahus’ former media adviser, Nir Hefetz, who recently agreed to testify against Netanyahu, tried to move the commercial channel idea forward.

According to Tuesday’s TV report, however, the prime minister and his wife were not only involved in the venture, which would be modeled on Fox News, but were the driving force behind it. The idea was that Hefetz would manage it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz (L) as Head of the National Information Directorate arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 27, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

The prime minister, who has had a prickly relationship with the mainstream media while in power, reportedly held several meetings on the subject with the businessmen, but was unable to garner enough support. While Packer, an Australian casino mogul, was in favor, the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchen was against and Murdoch, an Australian media magnate who owns Fox News, never fully committed to the idea.

Milchen was already an investor in another Israeli TV news outlet, Channel 10, and had sought to purchase shares in Channel 2, a news outlet now known as Hadashot.

Police suspect Netanyahu sought to help Milchan with the eventually unsuccessful purchase in exchange for gifts from him and Packer, in an affair known as Case 1000.

Last month, police recommended that the prime minister be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case and another case, known as Case 2000, in which the prime minister is suspected of trying to broker a quid pro quo with a media company for favorable coverage.

Producer Arnon Milchan accepts the Film Tribute Award at the 26th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, November 28, 2016, in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

In the first case, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan and Packer, in return for certain benefits.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

In a third investigation, known as Case 4000, the prime minister is suspected of advancing regulations that benefited the major shareholder in the Bezek telecommunications giant, Shaul Elovitch, in return for Elovitch ordering the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus.

Earlier this week, Hefetz agreed to testify against his former boss in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him and his associated have tried to downplay the amount of influence or access Hefetz had with the prime minister.

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