Leaked: Netanyahu confidante pressured website to defame political rival

New leaks emerge that a Netanyahu confidante pushed Walla! News owner Shaul Elovitch to run articles defaming a rival politician ahead of the 2013 elections.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly urged Walla! News owner Shaul Elovitch to publish a series of defamatory articles about Netanyahu political opponent Naftali Bennett ahead of the 2013 elections, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Monday.

If accurate, it could prove damaging evidence against Netanyahu in what is called Case 4000, or the Bezek-Walla! affair, in which it is alleged that the prime minister used his influence to help Bezek-owner Elovitch in return for news coverage that put him in a good light.

The report said that Ze’ev Rubinstein, Netanyahu’s friend, demanded of Elovitch that his Walla! website publish negative stories about Naftali Bennett and his family. Bennett was then head of the Jewish Home party. At the time, Netanyahu’s Likud party saw Bennett as a threat as his party was polling at some 17 seats.

Channel 12 presented correspondence between Elovitch and his Walla! website director, Ilan Yeshua, concerning two stories Netanyahu’s colleague Rubinstein was allegedly pushing. First, that Bennett’s wife worked in a non-kosher restaurant and, second, that his father had possibly tried to hurt Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after the Oslo Accords.

Regarding the restaurant piece, Elovitch wrote to Yeshua that “the friend” (Rubinstein) said his information that Mrs. Gilat Bennet had once been a chef in a non-kosher restaurant was “very important” because “she’s a religious woman.”

The following exchange between Yeshua and Elovitch allegedly took place a few days later, in which they discussed Rubinstein’s pressure and how best to release the information:

Yeshua: “The rest we’ll take care of tomorrow. It’s extremely sensitive and I don’t want to defeat all of us, including them [the Netanyahus]. We have to do it wisely and gradually or it’ll explode in all our faces.”
Elovitch: “I explained to him [Rubinstein] that it’s impossible everything together and that it’s dangerous. He understood but he’s getting pressure from the pair.”
Yeshua: “I’ll do my best, I’m working on it this moment.”
Elovitch: “Don’t take a risk in any way.”
Elovitch: “From the friend: ‘He’s right, everything shouldn’t go up at once, but the material I passed on mainly about the restaurant shouldn’t be dragged beyond Saturday night.'”

As the head of a national religious party, this revelation could have damaged Bennett with his base.

Rubinstein also reportedly tried to hurt Bennett’s appeal among secular, right-wing voters, telling Elovitch to investigate certain alleged actions of Bennett’s father in the post-Oslo period.

As Elovitch wrote to Yeshua: “From the friend: ‘Check this possibility: In light of the impudent comparison Naftali made between the character assassination committed against Bibi after the Rabin assassination and the alleged attack on the knitted skullcaps and the severe incitement in the press – I propose that you examine the pictures from the demonstration against Rabin at the inauguration of the Kfar Shmaryahu junction.

“Bennett’s father almost physically hurt Rabin, and at the demonstration at Wingate. As far as I know a police file was opened against him, and if he incites against the Prime Minister, perhaps it’s worth using the above materials to arouse the secular public regarding the home from which he came.'”

However, a few hours later Elovitch told his subordinate not to use the material.

Bennett reacts

Education Minister Bennett denounced the “attempt to harm my father and family,” saying that it was “immoral and must simply cease.”

He rejected the allegations that were aired, saying, “As to the accusation itself: During the Oslo Accords, my father, who was a proud right-wing man, was greatly pained by the handing over of parts of our country to Arafat, and participated in many demonstrations against the move. I admire him for his courage. The other things are a complete lie. Father loved people and would never hurt anyone. I’m very proud of my father and no article will change that.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is still in the midst of his final deliberations regarding all three alleged corruption cases against Netanyahu. Reports say that he will announce his decision on whether or not to indict the prime minister before February 21, which is the deadline for all parties to set their lists of candidates for the Knesset.