Trying to write objectively about “Affair 2000” – the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the uncovering of conversations he held with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes toward the end of 2014 – is made difficult, if not impossible, by the tendentious media coverage of the matter. Nevertheless, I shall try.
The conversation took place against the background of the submission of a bill by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) designed to undermine Israel Hayom – a free daily newspaper financed by gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson which is openly pro-Netanyahu.
Those who deny the paper’s legitimacy do so not because they believe a pro-Netanyahu editorial line is not legitimate, but because they argue that since it is not a true business venture, it constitutes an illegal financial contribution to the prime minister, worth tens if not hundreds of millions of shekels.
Though Netanyahu consistently denied in the past having anything directly to do with the paper, in light of the overwhelming and increasingly hostile coverage he receives in the local media, his interest in its survival is not surprising.
Mozes’s position is equally clear. Israel Hayom is one of the visible reasons for the growing financial difficulties of Yediot; it is freely distributed and Adelson’s deep pockets have enabled it to drastically cut ad prices. His conversation with Netanyahu reveals that he was/is willing to sell his alleged values and beliefs for the sake of financial survival – including his changing the anti-Netanyahu line of his newspaper.
This revelation is not completely surprising, but the level of cynicism he displays in the conversation is shocking, and the implications to the alleged “freedom of the press” self-evident.
There are many questions raised by the facts as we know them at the moment.
The most important is whether on the basis of what was said between the two criminal charges can be brought against either or both of them. No matter how badly the conversation smells, it is not certain that we are talking of criminal rather than ethical offenses.
The answer to this question is, apparently, a function of whether what was said was meant in earnest or whether it was merely a ploy on the part of one or both to incriminate the other.
Since the conversation was recorded by Netanyahu, or at his behest, it cannot be ruled out that there is some truth in his claim that he had no intention of going through with the deal – just to place a trap for Mozes, whom he has likened to a character in the TV series House of Cards. There are two question marks against this claim. The first is whether by “admitting” to having placed a trap for Mozes Netanyahu isn’t admitting that he too is such a character, to whom the end justifies the means. The second is that it is not clear why for over two years he did not make use of the recordings.
Another question that emerges is whether the whole conversation does not prove that a truly free and high-quality press is no longer financially viable in Israel, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
Many sensational facts have been revealed by the whole affair. The first is that Netanyahu admitted on Facebook that he brought down his previous government in large part due to his failure to block Cabel’s bill at the end of 2014, and because of what he considered to be the betrayal of his coalition partners, who voted for the bill in preliminary reading.
The second is that even if Netanyahu had no intention of going through with the deal he negotiated with Mozes, he spoke as if he had the power to make substantial changes in the running of Israel Hayom. Was this merely empty bragging, or was he admitting that he had lied when he declared (both to the public and the law enforcement authorities), that he has no influence over the newspaper? According to Caroline Glick (“Netanyahu’s shameless opponents,” The Jerusalem Post, January 20) Netanyahu’s conduct, under the circumstances, was perfectly logical and impeccable. “Netanyahu rejected Mozes’s offers and the two went to war.” This assumes that the only culprit in this story is Mozes, and that the attacks on Netanyahu are groundless.
I disagree. Leaving aside ideology, the reported problematic conduct by Netanyahu and members of his family over the years – to which Affair 1000 (the gifts-related affair) and Affair 2000 have recently been added – cannot be brushed off merely as personal persecution by political rivals and law enforcement.
Whether it will lead to the end of Netanyahu’s political career – either through elections, or as a result of a decision to bring criminal charges against him – time will tell. However, the evidence about his attempts to manipulate the media must lead to his immediate departure from the Communications Ministry – the sooner the better.
I have no idea whether Mozes is basically a corrupt man or whether he has been pushed into a corner. Either way I suspect that he is in deeper trouble over this affair than Netanyahu is.