Hebrew media review

On tap for Netanyahu: More investigations

Most papers minimize reports of US embassy move in favor of the latest corruption-related scandal to rock Netanyahu and his cronies

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses American-Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on February 21, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses American-Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on February 21, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

On a regular day, the widely praised news that US President Donald Trump ordered the US embassy be moved to Jerusalem would dominate the 24-hour news cycle in Israel, but the deepening investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspected efforts to favorably sway news coverage of himself and his family continues to dominate almost all major Israeli newspapers on Sunday.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads its paper with an exclusive report that police in recent months have wiretapped several suspects in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that the owner of the Walla news site, Shaul Elovitch, granted Netanyahu and his family favorable coverage in exchange for the prime minister advancing regulations benefiting the Bezeq telecom giant, which Elovitch also owns.

According to the paper, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved the phone taps after Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of Walla news, gave detailed testimony to the Israel Securities Authority in late 2017.

Yedioth calls the latest developments in Case 4000 an “earthquake” for Netanyahu, and says the three months of wiretaps have “complicated” matters for his associates implicated in the case.

The report says that Elovitch, former Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz and Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber were among the suspects whose phones were tapped starting in December 2017. Yedioth says the three months they were under police surveillance was at a time when they believed the investigation was over.

The extensive reporting, which spans no fewer than five pages in Sunday’s paper (the death of a major rabbi doesn’t appear until page 10, while a mass demonstration in downtown Tel Aviv against the deportations of African migrants only gets brief coverage on page 14) also includes its usual columns critical of Netanyahu and his handling of the mounting evidence and number of corruption cases against him.

Shaul Elovitch arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

The former director of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, weighs in on the cases, and calls on Mandelblit to disclose whether anyone from Netanyahu’s team approached him to discuss a separate criminal case against Sara Netanyahu several years ago.

He says Mandelblit must come clean and publicly state if he had any dealings with the Netanyahus in that case, or else it could damage his credibility in deciding whether to prosecute the prime minister in the current cases.

“The severity of the government corruption requires an approach that must be beyond suspicion or bias, otherwise the public will lose faith in Israel’s justice system,” he writes.

Former Netanyahu adviser Odelia Karmon levels harsh criticism at the Netanyahus, and calls the unfolding investigations a leadership test for the Knesset’s second biggest party, Jewish Home.

She slams Netanyahu as a person who “craves to dominate” and says none of his former or current staffers were surprised by the allegations against him.

“All of his investigations are the result of a deeply held belief by him and his wife that they were destined to be rulers,” Karmon writes.

Haaretz also dedicates much of its Sunday paper to the other corruption investigations plaguing the prime minister and his family.

The daily reports Netanyahu would likely be questioned later this week in Case 4000, as well as in another case involving alleged graft in naval deals called Case 3000.

In that investigation, police are probing suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two of his personal lawyers, have been arrested or questioned.

On its front page, the left-wing daily features three blistering op-eds criticizing Netanyahu and his associates.

The US Consulate in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, adjoining a possible site for the US Embassy (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

In one, columnist Gideon Levy criticizes the pervasive culture of corruption in Israel, saying the real scandal is that the Israeli public is so desensitized to corruption that it no longer fazes most people.

“We’ve gotten used to thinking there is no politics without deception and no politician who tells the truth, that that’s the way of the world,” he writes.

Israelis, he says, have “learned to live with it” and rarely “stop or confront them with their lies.

“We place our fates in the hands of the people we trust the least, and we’re alright with that. That is the greatest corruption.”

He says Netanyahu is not Israel’s first corrupt leader, and won’t its last either.

Meanwhile, in the pro-Netanayhu Israel Hayom, the latest revelations about the prime minister are nowhere to be found on its front page on Sunday.

Instead, the daily opts to celebrate the Trump administration’s embassy announcement.

The paper calls the move “an independence day gift from Trump to Israel,” prominently noting that the Republican White House kept its promise to move its embassy to the Israeli capital.

In a front-page op-ed, Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth declares that Trump “is the best thing that has happened to Israel in recent years.”

While both Yedioth and Haarertz covered the White House announcement, neither daily strikes the same tone of urgency or excitement as Israel Hayom in its coverage on Sunday.

The paper gives its first six pages to the announcement, while the latest developments in Case 4000 aren’t mentioned until page 9.

Its main report centers around reports that police are searching for Hefetz’s journals, which reportedly contain numerous entries detailing his meeting with Netanyahu.

Israel Hayom also notes that the Likud “is still the largest party in Israel,” unsubtly noting that according to polls the ruling right-wing party would still be in power if elections were to be held today.

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