Pressure grows on Netanyahu after leaks about media favours

Recordings reportedly made on behalf of Israeli PM and discovered during police inquiry

Under pressure: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Reuters

Under pressure: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Reuters

 

In a remarkable twist in the ongoing police investigation into Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it was revealed on Sunday that he held talks with the publisher of Israel’s most anti-Netanyahu newspaper over a deal that would involve the paper toning down its criticism of the government in return for Mr Netanyahu ensuring a reduction in the circulation of the paper’s biggest rival.

Channel 2 television reported that Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot, and a bitter opponent for years of Mr Netanyahu, discussed more favourable coverage in return for the closure of the weekend edition of the Yisrael Hayom newspaper. Mr Netanyahu also reportedly wanted Mozes to drop a planned article about is son Yair.

Yisrael Hayom, owned by a Netanyahu confidant, US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is distributed free throughout Israel and in recent years has become the country’s most widely-read newspaper, leading to a significant drop in the circulation of Yediot Aharonot.

The two papers are bitter rivals with both printing articles on an almost daily basis attacking each other.

Before Sunday’s report naming Mr Mozes, the Ha’aretz newspaper had reported that the police were in possession of “a series” of audio recordings involving conversations between Mr Netanyahu and an unnamed businessman.

The recordings were reportedly made on behalf of Mr Netanyahu by his former chief of staff, Ari Harrow, and discovered by police during an unrelated investigation they carried out against Mr Harrow, who was suspected of improper business dealings.

Proposed deal

Police must now determine if the proposed deal between Mr Mozes and Mr Netanyahu, which was never implemented, constitutes grounds for a criminal indictment, which would increase the pressure on Mr Netanyahu to resign as prime minister.

Last week Mr Netanyahu was questioned under caution twice by police investigators, with each session lasting five hours.

In addition to the attempted deal with Mr Mozes, police also grilled Mr Netanyahu over reports that Hollywood producer and long-time friend Arnon Milchan had supplied him with boxes of expensive cigars for years, and his wife, Sara, with bottles of pink champagne. In return, Mr Netanyahu asked US secretary of state John Kerry to help secure a 10-year visa for Mr Milchan.

Mr Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, repeating the mantra that the investigation will not amount to “anything, because there isn’t anything”, and accusing the “left-wing” media and opponents of trying to force him from power, having failed at the ballot box.

Resignation

Opposition Knesset members stepped up their calls on Mr Netanyahu to resign in light of the latest revelations.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit said Mr Netanyahu should step down.

“For half a year they’ve been telling us about cigars, housekeepers and everything else, when meanwhile lying right next to it was the largest corruption scandal we have known.”

Fellow Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Mr Netanyahu had lost the moral authority to remain as prime minister and “must decide if he wants to be an oligarch or a prime minister”.