The scandal rocking Israel: Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly suggested to give the PM positive coverage. In return, Netanyahu would stymie Mozes’ biggest competitor – Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper Israel Hayom
Media tycoon Arnon Mozes is the businessman who negotiated a quid pro quo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in conversations caught on tape that came to light on Sunday.
Haaretz reported on Sunday that suspicions in the main corruption affair involving Netanyahu are backed by recordings documenting contacts between him and a businessman over mutual benefits.
According to Channel 2, several months ago Netanyahu offered Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, a deal that would limit the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s top competitor and widely regarded as the prime minister’s mouthpiece. In return, Mozes would make Yedioth’s coverage more sympathetic to Netanyahu.
Israel Hayom, now Israel’s largest newspaper, is owned and published by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close confidant of the prime minister.
Mozes was questioned in the case last week and released under certain conditions.
Channel 10 reported that the negotiations were an effort by Netanyahu to prevent Yedioth Ahronoth from publishing a story about his son Yair. Channel 2 reported that the conversations were recorded by the prime minister’s bureau chief at the time, Ari Harow, at Netanyahu’s request.
The taped conversations were brought to the attention of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit months ago. Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan believed that while the affair had far-reaching ramifications politically, its legal status was unclear, Channel 2 reported.
In August, Netanyahu said he was considering promoting a bill that would bar recordings of conversations without consent from all the parties involved.
Not the first attempted deal
TheMarker reported in November that a few months before returning to power in 2009, Netanyahu spoke with Mozes and reached a secret deal. The two had been in a power struggle since 1996, when Netanyahu first became prime minister.
“He promised me that Israel Hayom wouldn’t publish a weekend edition,” confidants quoted Mozes as saying.
Mozes believed that the deal would save Yedioth, which badly suffered when Israel Hayom launched in 2007. In 2009, Netanyahu was gearing up for the election that would return him to power and tried to thwart attacks from Yedioth, then Israel’s biggest newspaper.
A few months later, however, the battle resumed in full force. At the end of 2009, Israel Hayom began publishing a weekend edition whose circulation reached the hundreds of thousands.
Yedioth retaliated with investigations and attacks on Netanyahu and then-Defence Minister Ehud Barak; it also backed a bill that would have prevented the publication of a free newspaper.
Before Sunday’s new claims in the second case, Netanyahu’s lawyer said: “We’re not talking about money, we’re not talking about loans, we’re not talking about anything that constitutes a crime,” adding there was “no suspicion, no trace, of a criminal offence in all of this”.
Netanyahu’s ”nothing will be found because there is nothing” has become his mantra in recent weeks as he has suffered a serious political blow from the inquiries that have led some to speculate whether he can survive.
Addressing that question, David Bitan, the chairman of Netanyahu’s coalition, tried to insist that even if Netanyahu were to be indicted – which he insisted would not happen – Netanyahu would not need not to resign.
Figures in Israel’s opposition, however, called on Netanyahu to suspend himself in response both to the police inquiry and the emerging reports that they argue has cast a cloud over his office.
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak led the charge, writing on Twitter: “Shock! Bibi can’t continue to serve as prime minister. Those with integrity among his ministers will be forced to lead him out or to lose their world as well. An end to the footdragging.”