As an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged efforts to sway news coverage of himself and his family gathers steam, Israeli television reported Friday the premier’s wife pushed to fire the editor of a news site at the center of the scandal.
In a Whatsapp message released by Channel 10, Sara Netanyahu asked Iris Elovitch, the wife of Bezeq and Walla news owner Shaul Elovitch, why Walla editor Aviram Elad had not yet been fired.
“It can’t go on like this, I thought we talked about this. This has gone on too long. Why do I need to read on your website about things like this? Do something about this!” Sara Netanyahu wrote in the message.
Earlier this week, Channel 10 reported that Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua told police the Netanyahus asked Shaul Elovitch to fire Elad.
Yeshua’s testimony was gathered as part of Case 4000, which involves suspicions Elovitch ordered Walla to grant positive coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefitting telecommunications giant Bezeq.
Iris Elovitch, who is herself a suspect in the case, criticized the publication of the Whatsapp message in a response to Channel 10.
“This is a prohibited and serious leak that distorts reality, while systematically ignoring important facts that weren’t presented [that] would prove that Iris Elovitch didn’t commit any offense,” she said in a statement.
The prime minister also slammed “biased and deceptive leaks” in response to the report.
“This is another transparent attempt to harm the prime minister using biased and deceptive leaks regarding his wife. Despite the wild behavior and lack of constraint that reached new heights in the last week, the truth will win and Prime Minister Netanyahu will continue to lead the state responsibility and ensure its security,” read a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
In portions of Yeshua’s testimony reported on by Hadashot TV news Friday, the Walla CEO described the Elovitch family as a “crime family.”
“Elovitch says he wanted to make Walla a right-wing nationalist site. That’s a lie,” Yeshua was quoted as telling investigators.
“There were times where there were orders to attack Naftali Bennett. It was permitted to write against the right, Likud ministers, [Avigdor Liberman], everyone — just not against Bibi, Sara and the son,” he reportedly added, apparently referring to the couple’s eldest son Yair.
The channel reported Friday that Yeshua also recorded conversations he had with Iris Elovitch.
A flurry of developments were reported in Case 4000 this week, following the arrest of a number of figures involved in the investigation.
Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime Netanyahu confidante, signed a deal Tuesday to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.
Filber had his remand extended on Wednesday by 15 days, and is to stay during that time at a facility in an undisclosed location while police continue questioning him.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended the remands of Elovitch and his wife by four days in the quickly ballooning corruption scandal.
Hebrew-language media reported earlier on Thursday that Yeshua recorded Shaul Elovitch ordering him to slant coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family. The recordings, handed over by Yeshua to investigators in recent days, are said to have been the trigger for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to open the criminal investigation and also for Filber’s decision to turn state witness.
Channel 10 reported Thursday evening that in one of the recordings, Elovitch can be heard saying the favorable coverage of Netanyahu has consequences for Bezeq’s interests and that it would affect the company’s fate, strengthening the bribery suspicion.
Netanyahu was acting communications minister at the time when several allegedly illicit deals were made with Elovitch, one of which included helping Bezeq buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues raised by ministry officials. The prime minister, who is reportedly suspected of furthering that deal, denies any wrongdoing. Elovitch also denies any wrongdoing.
On Friday, Hadashot TV news reported Netanyahu would likely be questioned next week in Case 4000, as in another case involving alleged graft in multi-billion-shekel naval deals called Case 3000.
In that investigation, police are investigating suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including his two personal lawyers, have been arrested or questioned.
Netanyahu has this week been linked to another affair, dubbed Case 1270, which involves his former family spokesman Nir Hefetz allegedly offering in 2015 to have judge Hila Gerstel appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Sara. Netanyahu, who has not been named as a suspect in the case, has strongly denied having anything to do with the incident, and said he thought it highly unlikely that Hefetz had advanced any such idea.
Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in two other cases.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth 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.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.