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Hebrew media review

Nothing to see here, folks

After Netanyahu's 5th questioning by police, he repeats his usual denial of wrongdoing: 'Nothing will come of it, because nothing happened.' Dailies aren't so sure

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ariel Schalit)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ariel Schalit)

Friday’s Hebrew-language newspapers have one theme in common: coverage of the deepening corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Thursday, Netanyahu was interrogated by police for over four hours in a pair of criminal investigations involving suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests.

After the police grilling, Netanyahu took to Twitter to repeat his now-iconic denial regarding the investigations.

“Nothing will come of it, because nothing happened,” he said.

But the Hebrew dailies aren’t so sure.

Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely read paid newspaper in Israel, says police presented the prime minister with evidence of his wrongdoing in both cases.

The daily says Netanyahu denied the testimonies of his former chief of staff-turned-state’s witness Ari Harow and Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan, both of whom have testified to police in recent months in the investigations.

Thursday’s questioning was Netanyahu’s first since March and his fifth session since he was named a suspect in two of the investigations late last year. According to Yedioth, Netanyahu is likely to be questioned at least three more times before the investigations are wrapped up and the findings handed over to state prosecutors.

In his weekend column, Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea takes aim at the pervasive culture of corruption in Israel, saying that ultimately, Netanyahu’s fate will be up to his fellow party members and not police.

He points to polls conducted under the tenures of former prime minister Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, both of whom suffered major political setbacks within their respective parties while under investigation for alleged crimes.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

But Barnea says Netanyahu has enjoyed relatively strong support from the Likud party during the investigations.

“This proves that it doesn’t actually matter what you’ve done, rather what your standing is within the party,” he writes. “Corruption is a matter of your belonging in the party.”

“Netanyahu’s allies in the party are his greatest asset against the criminal justice system,” Barnea says.

Meanwhile, Haaretz on Friday reports on a possible new case involving Netanyahu or his close associates — for those keeping count, the fourth such case so far. According to the report, the Israel Securities Authority is looking into suspicions that Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant, struck a quid pro quo agreement aimed at benefiting both men, with Netanyahu allegedly winning a commitment to favorable coverage in the Bezeq-controlled Walla news site.

Earlier this week, the ISA released a statement saying it uncovered evidence of “ongoing deliberate fraud activity” in Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company, after an investigation that has implicated two figures considered close to Netanyahu.

Although no names were mentioned in the statement, the ISA probe investigated Elovitch; Shlomo Filber, the director general of the Communications Ministry who was appointed to the post by Netanyahu; Stella Handler, Bezeq’s CEO; and the CEO of the Yes satellite TV company, Ron Ayalon.

Haartez columnist Yossi Verter says the turmoil surrounding the cases involving Netanyahu is part of his strategy “to blur, to anesthetize, to lead his partners up the garden path, and maybe himself, too.”

“The motive for everything he does, overtly or covertly, can be broken down into three parts: investigations, investigations and investigations,” he writes. “They are the reason and the cause for everything. There’s what the eye sees – in the Knesset, for example – and there are the clandestine things going on in the Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem.”

Israel Hayom on Friday also leads with Netanyahu’s latest round of questioning, but unlike the other dailies who seem more confident of an impending indictment, the paper, which has long supported the prime minister, claims police have not yet found hard evidence proving the various corruption suspicions.

“Police investigators are trying to establish an evidentiary basis that proves a pattern of bribe-taking,” Israel Hayom says in its front page story.

The daily makes no mention of the newest allegations of corruption levied against the Bezeq leadership, instead giving over the remainder of its front page to a recent study that suggests English teachers in Israel are grossly underqualified.

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