Third time’s corruption
Hebrew media review

Third time’s corruption

Despite mounting regional tensions, Israeli news outlets are unsurprisingly preoccupied with the latest Netanyahu scandal

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an inauguration ceremony for a new section of the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 15, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an inauguration ceremony for a new section of the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 15, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Despite the ramped up tension along Israel’s northern border that has so-called Mideast experts speculating when the next round of hostilities will take place, news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected in yet another bribery scandal dominates the front pages of Monday’s Hebrew-language newspapers.

In the new investigation, dubbed Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of furthering a deal under which Shaul Elovitch, owner of the Walla news site and the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq communications company, swayed Walla’s coverage of Netanyahu and his family in exchange for the Communications Ministry enacting policies potentially worth hundreds of millions of shekels for Elovitch.

The investigation came to a head on Sunday when two “very close” associates of Netanyahu were arrested, along with three senior officials in the Bezeq phone company.

On its front page, Yedioth Ahronoth almost gleefully declares that Netanyahu is expected to be interrogated in the latest corruption investigation.

According to the daily, police investigators have a “full and detailed picture” of the quid pro quo arrangement that required Walla news editors to “give positive coverage to the Netanyahu family.”

Sources tell Yedioth that police and the Israel Securities Authority kept the investigation under wraps in recent months, only announcing the extent of the probe this week in order to “surprise” the suspects.

Yedioth columnist Sima Kadmon laments that “it’s not just champagne anymore.” channeling the fatigue felt by many Israelis at the revelation that their prime minister could be guilty of yet another incidence of bribery.

“These charges are not surprising. They are all connected to Netanyahu’s obsessive pursuit of positive media coverage,” Kadmon charges.

“This isn’t about champagne or cigars anymore,” she writes, directing her pleas to both coalition and opposition leaders in the Knesset. “Someone has to do something, someone has to step up and say: enough. We must understand that this disgrace is not leading us anywhere. It’s time to wake up.”

In a sardonic cartoon, Yedioth lambasts the increasing number of close friends and confidants that are reportedly cooperating with police in the various cases against the Netanyahus. Guy Morad’s illustration shows the Netanyahus reading the latest news, eating pistachio ice cream (a reference to a scandal from several years ago when it was revealed that the prime minister and his family spent over NIS 10,000 on ice cream annually) while lamenting that they have no friends left to invite over to Passover Seder.

Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq’s controlling shareholder (Calcalist screenshot)

Even the staunchly pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom can’t bury the latest development in the Netanyahu corruption investigations, leading its front page with the arrests in Case 4000.

In a lengthy and prominently placed column, Dror Eydar levels harsh criticism against Yedioth columnist Sever Plocker who yesterday claimed that Netanyahu’s longtime friend, Sheldon Adelson, started Israel Hayom in an effort to put Yedioth out of business.

He slams Yedioth for representing the interests of Israel’s “decadent elite,” accusing the daily of peddling “pro-Oslo” reports in the 1990s, and calls its coverage of misogynist remarks made by rabbis in recent years “anti-Semitic.”

Eydar, who writes for a publication whose editor in chief was reported to be in regular contact with Netanyahu regarding editorial matters, says other Israeli outlets should take a cue from the “free press” values espoused at Israel Hayom.

“It [Yedioth] has turned into a left wing newspaper for all intents and purposes,” he concludes.

Israel Hayom also features a single column defending Netanyahu by longtime attorney Natan Lerer.

Lerer lists the ways the media has mishandled its coverage of the Netanyahu investigations. His main beef seems to be with how Israeli news outlets have misinterpreted the term “police recommendations.”

He points to a 2003 High Court of Justice ruling which says that police are required pass on a summary of their investigation to state prosecutors, and not seek to implicate guilt in the public sphere.

“Few people in the media are being accurate in their terminology,” he says. “Most commentators prefer to add fuel to the fire, since the term ‘recommendation’ is like pouring gasoline on a bonfire.”

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

Haaretz, the country’s major left-wing newspaper, has plenty to say about the growing suspicions against Netanyahu. Its columnists and contributors don’t usually hold back when it comes to the prime minister, and Monday’s paper is no exception.

In a guest column, Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker calls it “crazy and shocking” that Netanyahu tried to close the TV station because it was uncovering damaging allegations against the prime minister. “If a person who tried to close a media outlet out of personal interest isn’t corrupt, then what’s corruption?” Drucker says.

Odeh Bisharat says Netanyahu is trying to turn the perpetrator into the victim, just like the state does with Palestinians.

“It’s impossible to continue this way, stealing Palestinian land while keeping your hands clean when it comes to the Jews. The principles of theft, which begin with Arabs, very quickly spill over toward the Jews.”

Meanwhile, a Haaretz editorial demands the so-called Milchan law (a law that grants extensive tax benefits to Jewish and billionaires living abroad) be repealed immediately.

The paper says that the law, passed by Olmert’s government in 2008 and preserved by Netanyahu, is turning Israel into a shady tax haven destination like Bermuda and Panama.

The paper notes that the prime minister who passed the law was eventually convicted of corruption and Netanyahu — who according to the paper has blocked efforts to revoke the law — is currently under investigation for corruption.

“It seems it’s no coincidence that this corrupting and corrupt law is associated with two prime ministers, one who has already been convicted of criminal acts and the other who is now suspected of them,” it says. “There’s no time like the present to revoke this warped piece of legislation.”

read more: