In a social media post Sunday night – and the most comprehensive statement he has made yet about the influence-peddling case he is implicated in – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again insisted that he had committed no crime, and that the incessant media attention to the story of how Yediot Acharonot publisher Arnon Mozes tried to offer him a deal for better coverage was just another attempt by the media to remove him from office.
“Over the past few days there has been an unending and unprecedented organized media campaign against me to dismantle the Likud government,” Netanyahu wrote. “The propaganda campaign is aimed at pressuring the state attorney and prosecutors to indict me. The technique is simple: Day and night, over and over, they distribute alleged quotes from these conversations, picking and choosing them with great care, along with outright lies about the two issues that are under consideration.
“As long as the investigation is continuing I cannot defend myself,” Netanyahu continued. “I cannot tell the public the real story, that will clarify everything. There were no crimes committed here, but since I am required to remain silent there are things I cannot say. All I can do is point out the things that are known and that are clear.”
Among those things, he said, was the continued existence of Yisrael Hayom, and the continued animosity towards him by Yediot Acharonot. According to the reports that have appeared throughout the Israeli media, Yediot Acharonot publisher Mozes tried to cook up a deal with Binyamin Netanyahu, in which his newspaper would reduce its level of antipathy to the Prime Minister in exchange for a deal that would rein in Yediot’s chief competitor, Yisrael Hayom. Among the ways that could have been done was via a Knesset law that would have prevented publishers from giving away daily newspapers for free. Known as the Yisrael Hayom Law, the legislation was sponsored by Zionist Camp head Eitan Cabel, who claimed that a free press needed to be supported by readers who pay for a publication, rather than paid for by a billionaire and reflect his viewpoint, as is the case with Yisrael Hayom.
In his post, Netanyahu wrote that the law had been proposed numerous times and he had voted against it each time. “Even after the law passed on its first reading in 2013, I argued against it, and the law was one of the reasons I broke up the last government,” the Prime Minister wrote. “I even put a special condition in our coalition agreements in this government against passage of that law.”
That, as much as anything, is proof that the entire story is irrelevant. “Yisrael Hayom remains in business, and there has not been one day of respite from the negative coverage of me in Yediot Acharonot. All the contentions that I made a deal to advance that law are nonsense,” he added.
Mozes was questioned for eight hours on Sunday, and Netanyahu is set to be questioned for a third time this week, at which time prosecutors will decide what to do with the case. According to Army Radio, prosecutors are trying decide whether Netanyahu or Mozes – or both – had criminal intent in conducting the conversations, which could lead to at least conspiracy charges. Netanyahu has told investigators that he recorded the conversations in order to prove that Mozes was trying to extort him to pass the law. Mozes has told them that he never had any intention of changing the paper’s editorial policy on Netanyahu, and the proof is that it indeed did not change.