YERUSHALAYIM - After days of silence, Yediot Acharonot has begun to respond to reports that its publisher, Arnon (“Noni”) Mozes, sought to make a deal with Binyamin Netanyahu in 2009 to persuade the prime minister to pressure rival Yisrael Hayom to close down, or to back legislation requiring the free newspaper to charge money. In return, Mozes promise to ease the negative coverage against the prime minister.
In an interview, Yediot columnist Ben-Dror Yemini demanded that the recordings that police are said to have of conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes be made public. “Let’s clear up the fog,” he told Army Radio. “The editorial staff was not involved in any of this, and the State Attorney has apparently had this recording for a long time, and no action was taken on it. It’s time to unveil all the information.”
Channel Two, which first reported the conversations on Sunday, quoted on Tuesday lengthier excerpts of the tapes it said police had in their possession. According to the report, Mozes told Netanyahu that if they came to an agreement on the law to force Yisrael Hayom to charge money, “I will make sure that you remain prime minister as long as you want. I am telling you this as clearly as possible.”
Netanyahu has been questioned twice by police on the matter, and both he and Mozes are scheduled to be questioned again in the coming days, police sources said.
Netanyahu on Sunday said that the media was making a mountain out of a molehill. Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that he was familiar with the material, and that there was nothing to it. “Unfortunately, I cannot share details at this time, but what I can say with full confidence – and I know what I am talking about – is that there will be nothing because there is nothing. The only thing going on is the unceasing pressure of the media on law enforcement.”
In a statement, attorneys for Mozes said that they could not respond to the reports. “We recommend that everyone wait until the end of the police inquiry, when things will be clearer,” the attorneys said.
Writing in Yediot Acharonot Wednesday, senior columnist Nachum Barnea said that regardless of meetings and promises made by one or the other, the entire arrangement was “not based on reality. It is difficult to imagine the two cooking up such a deal that would implicate them both in a crime. But it is even more difficult to imagine how they would pull off such a deal, if there is any truth to this. A prime minister can complain about the coverage he receives, but he cannot demand that the newspaper cover him in the way he prefers. In real life, it couldn’t happen,” as reporters would never agree to being dictated to. “The best thing the State Attorney can do is release the recordings so we can all hear them.”
Yisrael Hayom, the victim of this alleged conspiracy, has not commented on the story editorially yet. However, it did report that Mozes had tried to make other “deals” with politicians in the past; the newspaper quoted Globes as reporting that in 2006, for example, Mozes organized a meeting with a “senior government official” aimed at preventing Dorit Beinish from being named High Court Chief Justice. Mozes failed in that endeavor, if indeed the meeting took place, Yisrael Hayom said, just as it apparently failed in making a deal with Netanyahu, if the newspaper’s consistent anti-Netanyahu line of reporting is any evidence. In any event, the newspaper said, “senior legal experts have said that there is a great deal of doubt that the discussions, even if they took place, could be considered a crime,” as no action to implement either side of the “deal” evidently occurred.