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Israeli Police Reportedly Have Recordings of Netanyahu Negotiating a Bribe With a Media Mogul

A House of Cards-like scandal is rocking Israel and Netanyahu. Previous ones have failed to take him down. Could this one be different?

Yair Rosenberg
January 11, 2017
Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images
Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images

Forget the uncorroborated Trump allegations: Israel’s police may have the goods on Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last weeks, the Israeli prime minister has been questioned multiple times by law enforcement over several possible corruption scandals. One of these investigations concerns expensive gifts he received from wealthy businessmen and supporters, which, though appearing unseemly, is nothing new for Netanyahu and unlikely to have much impact. The other, more serious investigation, however, concerns a series of recordings that reportedly document Netanyahu negotiating a bribe from one of Israel’s top media moguls, offering legislation in exchange for favorable coverage.

The mogul, Arnon “Noni” Mozes, is publisher of the Yediot Ahronot group, and a longtime nemesis of Netanyahu’s. Mozes’s papers have been viciously critical of the prime minister, and strongly supported his chief challenger Isaac Herzog in the last election. But Yediot’s sales have been hit hard by the Sheldon Adelson-funded free daily Yisrael Hayom, which backs Netanyahu. And so before the 2014 elections, Mozes allegedly opened negotiations with Netanyahu, asking him to pass legislation that would curtail Yisrael Hayom’s circulation in exchange for Mozes’s papers throwing their weight behind the Likud leader.

“Mozes told Netanyahu that he would do everything so that Netanyahu would stay in power as long as he wanted… [and] proposed that Netanyahu choose a number of journalists and promised to hire them immediately in the group’s media outlets,” reported Haaretz. “Mozes’ intention was allegedly to ensure that Yedioth cover Netanyahu in a positive light. In exchange, he asked Netanyahu to promote legislation in the Knesset that would require Israel Hayom to be sold to consumers rather than given away. This would allow Yedioth to return to the dominant position it held before the appearance of Israel Hayom.”

Although the talks fell apart and neither the legislation nor the pro-Netanyahu coverage ever came to pass, simply negotiating such a bribe is against Israeli law. According to Israel’s Channel 10, Netanyahu is now claiming that he only spoke with Mozes in an effort to entrap the mogul, with no actual intention of following through.

The prime minister has repeated his mantra of “there will be nothing, because there is nothing,” which he has deployed throughout various corruption investigations during his administration. So far, he has been right. But in a sign that this latest scandal poses a categorically higher threat to Netanyahu’s reign, a current Likud minister told Channel 10 anonymously that, “The new details are a game changer, you can smell it in the air that the era of Netanyahu is coming to an end. We need to prepare for the day after.”

If nothing else, the big names and salacious backroom details of this scandal promise to keep it in the Israeli headlines while the investigation proceeds, denting Netanyahu’s public support. Whether the ultimate findings will actually topple him, of course, remains to be seen. It would be a great irony if Netanyahu, who rose to prominence through his eloquence and mastery of the media, was brought down by his obsession with it.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.