Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night told Channel 20’s Eliran Tal and Shimon Riklin in an exclusive interview: “We are in the midst of an unprecedented media campaign aimed at slandering me with baseless accusations in order to replace the government.”
The Prime Minister referred to the investigations of two of his close friends, Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber—accused of sending classified ministry documents to another close friend of Netanyahu’s and head of Israel’s largest telecommunications firm Bezeq, Shaul Alovitz, and changing ministry policy that brought millions of dollars to the company; and David Shimron—Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney accused of arranging multi-million dollars in bribes in return for the purchase of a German nuclear-head carrying submarine the IDF insisted it didn’t need.
“Regarding David Shimron and Shlomo Filber (formerly Netanyahu’s chief of staff), I know them as honest people, moral people, and I have no doubt that there will be nothing to stick to them,” Netanyahu told Channel 20, noting that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Netanyahu added that the Justice Ministry also stated that “as part of his position as Minister of Communications, the Prime Minister did not make controversial decisions before the opinion regarding a conflict of interests was formulated, and there was no specific decision made with Bezeq which could be pointed out as being based in a conflict of interests.”
Netanyahu did not refer to the State Comptroller’s special report that was published on Thursday on the Ministry of Communications and Bezeq, criticizing Netanyahu for failing to mention his friendship ties with Alowitz in the conflict of interest declaration he signed when he took office as Communications Minister in November 2014.
“From the outset, no connection has been reported between the Prime Minister and a central telecommunications source,” the comptroller’s office wrote, even though “the prime minister served as Communications Minister from November 2014 and was involved in several issues that directly or indirectly affect Bezeq.”
“This is the Fake News method, you described it accurately,” Netanyahu told his interviewers, who were very clearly on his side. “They take something that has nothing to do with me and seeing me ‘rising and falling’ with the submarines in order to create a scandal.”
“I know this method, a real Soviet system,” the PM continued. “They tell me about Mickey Ganor – I do not know who Mickey Ganor is, I haven’t met him in my life. I have no idea what they connect and what they don’t connect to him. I know one thing: my decisions, as the Attorney General determined. I’m not a suspect, I did not do anything wrong, on the contrary, I did the right thing, I know what my decisions were.”
Israeli businessman Miki Ganor, who lives a few blocks from Netanyahu in Caesarea (he’s selling the property now, in case you’re interested), has represented the German shipbuilding giant Thyssenkrupp AG since 2009, overseeing the sale of Dolphin class submarines and Sa’ar class warships to Israel. In 2016 Ganor made headlines over the submarines affair and an attempt to privatize the Israeli Navy Shipyards – both in cahoots with attorney David Shimron (Bibi’s cousin and lawyer). Ganor is spending this week and part of next in jail, in connection with the scandals.
Netanyahu rebutted, “He lives in Caesarea and I have an apartment in Caesarea – well, does that not prove everything? It’s absurd! It’s cheap, petty propaganda.”
For the record, the Netanyahus’ “apartment” in one of Israel’s most prestigious communities is a villa they paid $1 million for back in 2002. The couple owns another apartment in Jerusalem’s most prestigious neighborhood of Rehavia.
Playing to the home crowd at Channel 20, the PM intimated, “They know one thing – I am the barrier before the rise of the left and so I must be removed.”
“By the way, they succeeded in the past, their method worked,” Netanyahu cautioned. “[Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir was ousted in 1992, with the campaign slogan ‘We’re fed up with your corruption’ (the identical slogan with which Likud unseated Labor in 1977).”
“In 1999 they removed me,” Netanyahu continued, adding, “When they removed Shamir, we received Oslo and the terrible terror. When they dismissed me, we received Barak and his ‘Dawn of a new day’ (Barak’s campaign slogan that ushered in the government of the 2000 Intifada).”
“Every Monday and Thursday buses exploded here,” Netanyahu reminded his audience.
“Today it no longer works,” Netanyahu said about his attackers in the leftist media. “They know that they can’t win in elections, so they try another way. Produce false scandals, inflate them, then, when they dissipate, move on to the next affair.”
There were disturbing aspects to Netanyahu’s interview – besides the fact that it was difficult to watch the Channel 20 interviewers’ exceedingly restrained style, even for someone like myself who essentially agrees with much of Netanyahu’s argument regarding the attempts on his political life by leftwing media.
The PM is under multiple attacks, some of which appear to be maturing into indictments of several of his close friends and confidants. Even if he manages to walk away from this – and three additional Lahav 433 special crimes unit investigations – he will not get away unscathed.
He is clearly already injured, his wife Sara continues to be under casual attacks in the media, he is losing his grip on the right-wing in his own Knesset faction (just yesterday his security cabinet suspended his and Defense Minister Liberman’s plan to let 6,000 Qalqilya homes be built on Israel’s Area C).
He may have needed the interview to calm his base and, as he put it, be able to say his piece without being shouted down by leftwing interviewers—a trait of Israel’s media that makes it very hard for an American who speaks Hebrew to sit through what are little more than bar brawls with important people. Did he deliver on his own expectations? Did his Channel 20 viewers believe him when he declared himself to be “the only barrier before a return to the ’67 borders” when they know he has been freezing settlements home construction for the ninth year in a row?
Netanyahu is hurt and angry, he has no shortage of self-pity, and, like so many leaders who have spent the better part of two decades at the helm, he does not see much daylight between himself and the state. The interview Thursday night was his attempt to take back some control over his own destiny, which he believes is the destiny of his country. This attempt, rather than being a solution, may be a symptom of the problem.