Regev says TV report false, former aide aims to defame her

‘Rot and corruption’: AG said ready to investigate Miri Regev after damning report

Ex-top aide says post-Oct. 7 guilt led him to come forward with records showing Transportation Ministry awash with party politics, corruption and a sycophantic adviser corps

Transportation Minister Miri Regev holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to launch an investigation into the conduct of Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Hebrew media reported Friday, after allegations emerged that her office was rife with politicization, systematically giving preferential treatment to local officials who are also Likud power players.

The allegations were made in a Channel 13 report aired Thursday, based on official memoranda and internal group chats supplied by Yonatan Yehosef, formerly the chief of the Transportation Ministry’s professional staff.

Regev denied the allegations as false and claimed Yehosef had stolen documents and was seeking to defame her. Neither Regev nor Yehosef specified when he stopped working for her as a senior aide.

Yehosef said that Regev ignored the professional aspects of the ministry and focused on a parallel political staff, which once concocted a story about Shin Bet insurrectionism to counteract embarrassing news in which the minister was involved.

Yehosef said he decided to come forward as a mea culpa for his involvement in the type of politicking which, he said, was typical of state failures leading up to October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take over 250 hostages.

Police said in a statement that it was looking into the report’s allegations. A senior law enforcement official was quoted by Channel 13 as saying that Regev’s alleged conduct “exudes a stench of rot and corruption” and was possibly criminal.

Among the documents produced by Yehosef was a spreadsheet wherein towns and cities were sorted by color code. “Green” cities were to be “fought for” at all costs; “yellow” cities could be handled charitably where possible, but “if not — it’s not the end of the world”; and “white” cities meant: “send letters, we’ll talk,” said Yehosef.

Still worse were “red” cities, which were to be actively ignored. For example, Nisan Ben Hamo, mayor of “red” Arad, told Channel 13 that Regev’s ministry had never responded to his requests to repair the notoriously dangerous Route 31, which connects the southern city with the Dead Sea.

Yehosef explained that each locality’s color code was determined by the number of votes, if any, that its mayor had secured for Regev in the Likud party’s primaries.

Yonatan Yehosef, former chief of Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s professional staff, in a whistleblowing interview to the ‘Makor’ investigative program on Channel 13, which aired May 23, 2024. (Screen capture: Channel 13, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Another document ranked Likud activists on the same basis, with the highest ranking, “diamond,” earning its holder preferential treatment, as well as a call from Regev on the event of his or her birthday, about which the minister was said to have been especially meticulous.

A special Whatsapp group, called “Priority 1,” was set up for specific requests from “diamonds” for the minister to handle, Yehosef said. In one such case, Regev had personally intervened to prevent the removal of a sidewalk outside the home of an activist’s mother, in the Shafir regional council — where the entire walkway was ultimately torn up, except for that segment.

In making such decisions, Yehosef said and the TV report indicated, Regev often overrode her professional staff’s recommendations, but in official documents, she made a habit of inserting — often in her own handwriting — a line indicating that the minister’s decision had been made “in coordination with professional elements.”

The politicking had tangible effects on the allotment of her ministry’s budget, the TV report indicated. Beit Shemesh, for example, was denied NIS 1 billion ($270 million)  promised to it — at the recommendation of the ministry’s professional staff — that was divvied up among projects elsewhere, apparently at Regev’s insistence.

An internal Ministry of Transportation document produced by former professional chief of staff Yonatan Yehosef shows Israeli localities and their mayors ranked, purportedly by their level of political utility to the minister, Miri Regev, seen in Channel 13’s ‘Makor’ investigative program on May 23, 2024. (Screen capture: Channel 13, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a statement, Regev called the report “a collection of lies, false claims, half-truths and distortion of reality,” slamming Yehosef as someone “who stole documents from the Ministry of Transportation” to defame her.

The Israel Hayom daily reported that following the report, Regev has retained the services of Amit Haddad, an attorney also serving as counsel for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trials.

Yehosef said that the minister — a former Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman — often takes a caustic approach in her dealings with the press at the behest of her close political advisers, collectively known as “the kitchenette.” The coterie, Yehosef said, extended well beyond the political staff allotted to each minister by law, coming at the expense of professional staff.

“One time she said to me: Yonatan, listen, the ‘professional’ doesn’t interest me at all. That’s what I have the executive director for. I’m here only to do politics,” Yehosef told Channel 13, estimating that Regev spent just 5 percent of her time on purely professional discussions. Even that, he said, was gradually eroded before evaporating entirely before the campaign for municipal elections, which, before the war in Gaza, had been set to take place in October.

Yehosef described to Channel 13 how, a month before, he had become especially distraught by the political staff’s conduct. In September, Regev was seen in an altercation with Shin Bet agents, which the security agency blamed on the minister, saying her vehicle had rammed into the detail, injuring one — whom Regev accused of acting “violently.”

Screen capture from video from inside Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s car during an altercation with Shin Bet security guards, September 4, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Footage later emerged of the minister in the car, angrily ordering her driver to continue even as he demurred, warning he would ram into the Shin Bet agents. In the video, Regev does not appear to be in danger.

By Yehosef’s account, Regev’s spokesman had leaked the latter footage by accident, rather than a different recording in which the minister could not be heard. Text messages, which Channel 13 said came from Regev’s inner circle’s Whatsapp group, showed the minister irate at the mix-up, and the ‘kitchenette’ desperate to find a way out of the public relations disaster.

“There is a threat here which is a rare opportunity!!! The protest movement has seeped into the Shin Bet,” an adviser of Regev’s was quoted as writing, referring to mass demonstrations against the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

“A minister felt threatened. We won’t allow a coup d’etat,” continued the message. That evening, Yehosef said, Regev pushed the message on Channel 14, a rightwing news outlet.

In an effort to iron out the differences between them, Netanyahu held a joint session with Regev and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, which Yehosef said he attended. During the fraught session, Regev repeated her aide’s anti-“insurrection” messaging. Yehosef recalled — much to his chagrin — that Netanyahu took Regev’s side on the matter.

Yehosef said Regev was enthralled by the trappings of power, once castigating him for not being fast enough to open a door for her. Her nearest advisers would regularly pander to her, with one calling her people skills “supernatural,” text messages from the kitchenette’s Whatsapp group showed.

Yehosef also shared with Channel 13 other messages from the group chat, in which the minister and her associates used various insulting terms to describe perceived political opponents. These included the “son of a whore” Energy Minister Eli Cohen — who beat Regev in the Likud primaries — as well as the “hideous” Labor party leady Merav Michaeli and “zealous midget” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, two of Regev’s predecessors in the Ministry of Transportation.

File: Then-Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks during a press conference at the European Office of the United Nations, Palais des Nation, in Geneva on November 14, 2023. (Pierre Albouy/AFP)

Raviv Drucker, the veteran political correspondent who produced the report, said that in 30 years of reporting, he had never seen a minister so meticulous in politicking. A follow-up report on Regev’s conduct throughout the war sparked by the October 7 onslaught is set to air next week, Drucker said.

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