Israel’s High Court said on Monday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must give a full public accounting of his phone conversations with billionaire supporter Sheldon Adelson, information that could shed light on allegations that Netanyahu illegally interfered in media coverage of his government.
Monday’s decision overrules a lower court ruling as well as a State Attorney’s Office opinion upholding the Prime Minister’s Office contention that records of calls between Netanyahu and Adelson, and Amos Regev, the former editor of the Adelson-owned daily Yisrael Hayom, need not be released.
The SAO has stated that “the two involved parties are personal friends of the prime minister, and their conversations are private and unrelated to his ministerial work.”
However, judges Neil Hendel, Uri Shoham and Meni Mazuz found that “the public interest in disclosing the requested information exceeds, in the circumstances, the right of Adelson, Regev, and the Prime Minister to privacy.”
Mazuz wrote that “private conversations between the office holder and a private individual (personal friend, family member, etc.) are not the same as conversations that are private in terms of content, but the other side of the conversation is a player in the public arena who has an affinity or influence in the public authority or in the public arena. The intention is for a person whose status, business, and occupation may be influenced by the decisions of government officials, and therefore there is a clear public interest in exposing the very nature of his ties with the government, as well as the nature and extent of these ties.”
The case stems from a freedom of information request submitted by Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker for the call logs in February of 2015, which was rejected in September of that year.
In appealing the decision, Drucker’s lawyer argued that “the relationship between the prime minister, Adelson, and Regev is not a matter of gossip, it’s a matter of understanding the relationship between the government, the newspaper, and its funder.”
Netanyahu has been accused of attempting to scale down the operations of Yisrael Home in order to persuade Yediot owner Nuni Mosez to take it easier on him, and to silence or remove certain writers critical of him from the otherwise pro-Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom.