Netanyahu didn’t bribe anyone, we were balancing left-wing reporting, says Israeli media titan in PM’s trial

The lawyers didn’t deny that requests were made by the prime minister but denied there was a quid pro quo.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

On Nov. 21, 2019, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the charge of bribery in Case 4000, otherwise known as the Bezeq-Walla case. It’s the only case of three facing the prime minister with a bribery charge and therefore considered the most serious.

On Monday, the other defendants in the case, Israeli Tycoon Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris, tried to punch a hole in the prosecution’s claim that there was bribery. Elovitch owned Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, which runs the website Walla.

Bribery wasn’t the issue, Elovitch’s two attorneys told the Jerusalem District Court on Monday morning, who didn’t deny that requests were made by the prime minister, but denied there was a quid pro quo, the essence of bribery. They said that changes made on Netanyahu’s behalf were an effort to provide more honest coverage.

According to Haaretz, Elovitch’s attorney, Jacques Chen, wrote in the statement by the defense, “it never crossed my client’s mind that by acceding to requests to ensure positive coverage for the prime minister and his family on the Walla website, or by initiating such coverage himself, he was giving a bribe.

“His intervention not only accorded with his views and positions, but was an attempt to balance, even slightly, in his mind, the website’s political line, as well as its extremely negative, petty and rankling attitude to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his family,” Chen wrote.

State prosecutors claim that Elovitch offered Netanyahu positive coverage on Walla‘s news site in exchange for regulatory favors. According to a revised indictment, the prosecution counts 230 times in which Netanyahu and his family attempted to alter Walla‘s reporting. Netanyahu was involved directly or indirectly in 155 of these instances, Haaretz reports.

Netanyahu’s lawyers made a similar statement in their defense of the prime minister, writing: “One could say that the media in Israel have for many years had a leftist bias. The prime minister believes that a major way of attaining some balance is the establishment and cementing of right-wing outlets, which can hold ongoing debates with left-wing media outlets.”

Netanyahu has been indicted in two other cases: Case 1000 and Case 2000. Case 1000 accuses Netanyahu of fraud and breach of trust for receiving gifts of cigars and champagne totaling $200,000 for various political favors. Case 2000 claims Netanyahu is guilty of attempted bribery for making a deal for favorable coverage from Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes.

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Netanyahu has rejected the accusations and calls the trials a “witch hunt” by his political opponents.

The indictments do not seem to have swayed Israel’s voters who have continued to vote for Netanyahu to be their leader. A Nov. 2019 poll, shortly after the indictments were announced, found 64% of Israelis saying it wouldn’t affect their vote.

However, opposition has been building against Netanyahu with weekend protests carrying on for months now outside his official residence and political parties on both sides of the political aisle forming with the promise to bring an end to his tenure.

Netanyahu has found a staunch defender in one seemingly objective observer, U.S. attorney Alan Dershowitz, who has said Israel “should be deeply ashamed” for putting Netanyahu on trial for seeking better coverage.

“Israel is the first country in modern history to ever put a political leader on trial for trying to get good media coverage or trying to eliminate negative media coverage,” Dershowitz told i24News last June.

He said the charges against Netanyahu are not crimes and that if the Knesset wanted them to be crimes, it would need to pass statutes to make them so, something Knesset members would never do “because if they did, half of the members of the Knesset would be in prison.”

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The next court hearing will take place on Feb. 8. It will deal with all three cases. Netanyahu will be in attendance.