Will Citizen M destroy Netanyahu?

A taped conversation with publisher Arnon Mozes, a long-time nemesis of the PM, could yet lead to his indictment

January 12, 2017 10:49

On Sunday it emerged that the mysterious businessman with whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had allegedly been recorded discussing mutual benefits was Yediot Ahronot publisher Arnon Mozes

The news was an earthquake for Israel’s political and media establishment.

If one man has loomed large as Mr Netanyahu’s personal nemesis over the last two decades, it is the secretive media tycoon sometimes referred to, only half-jokingly, as “Citizen M”.

The roots of the decades-old personal antipathy between the two men regarded by many as the most powerful figures in Israel remain unclear to this day, but what cannot be denied is that for much of Mr Netanyahu’s political life, his coverage in Yediot Ahronot and its sister website, Ynet, has been relentlessly negative.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu’s rivals, both within Likud and the leaders of opposing parties, from right, centre and left, have in turn received preferential treatment.

Mr Netanyahu’s supporter, American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has admitted that at least part of his motivation for founding the freesheet Yisrael Hayom nine years ago was an attempt to curb Yediot’s power as the bestselling tabloid in Israel.

Mr Mozes fought back against the “Bibiton”, as Yisrael Hayom is called by many in Israel (an amalgamation of the Prime Minister’s nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper). In 2014, a majority of Knesset members voted for a law that would have forced Yisrael Hayom to charge money for each copy.

Mr Netanyahu’s response was to fire key cabinet ministers who had voted for the law and call elections before the legislation was completed.

In the early hours of March 18, 2015, as Mr Netanyahu took to the stage to celebrate his fourth election victory, his supporters chanted “Nonny [Mr Mozes’ nickname] has been screwed”. Now it has emerged that the two men were in secret talks all along.

Recordings of some of these meetings, made apparently by Mr Netanyahu’s former chief of staff at his boss’s behest, are now in police hands and form the basis of an investigation.

It has emerged that the two men can be heard explicitly discussing the terms under which the Prime Minister might change media legislation in return for favourable coverage. But will that be sufficient for an indictment against them? Mr Netanyahu was questioned under caution twice last week in his official residence. Mr Mozes has been in for questioning as well.

If, as is being suggested, the prime minister told the publisher he could use his influence with Mr Adelson to limit Yisrael Hayom in return for more favourable coverage, there could be the necessary elements here for an indictment on bribery charges.

Mr Netanyahu is obsessed with his treatment at the hands of the “hostile” media. For Mr Mozes, the rolling back of Yisrael Hayom’s operations would be worth many millions. But both could claim that their dealings were no different to similar conversations which take place daily between senior politicians and members of the press.

Mr Netanyahu will also claim, as he has in the past, that he does not have that kind of influence with Mr Adelson anyway. If it transpires that he does effectively control Yisrael Hayom, he could be open to the charge of accepting illegal political funding in the shape of a newspaper at his disposal.

While dealing with these allegations, the prime minister also has a separate probe to contend with. This case, over which he was also questioned last week, concerns “gifts” received from “friends” who include, among others, Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly provided Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with regular supplies of champagne and Cuban cigars. All those involved insist the gifts, worth tens of thousands of pounds, were above board. But the two men will have to explain why Mr Netanyahu felt he had to intercede personally with US State Secretary John Kerry to obtain a renewal of Mr Milchan’s 10-year visa to America.

Ultimately it will be up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt to decide whether either of these cases contain enough evidence to indict the PM.

Mr Netanyahu continues to insist that “there will be nothing because there is nothing” and his proxies in the media promise he will remain in office “because governments should only change through the ballot box”.

Meanwhile, none of his ministers are going to try to remove him, as Ehud Olmert’s ministers did eight years ago. They have all had their own secret dealings with Mr Mozes and Mr Adelson and are not about to throw stones from the glass cabinet.


January 12, 2017 10:49

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive