"This evening I reveal to you that in the course of the investigations against me I demanded a confrontation with the state's witnesses. I wanted to look them in the eyes. I demanded a confrontation once, and was refused. I demanded again, and was refused. Why? What are they afraid of? What do they have to hide? And this evening I repeat the demand for a confrontation with the state's witnesses. As far as I am concerned, the confrontation can be broadcast live. Let the public see everything, hear everything, and see me vindicated," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference at his official residence in Jerusalem, which he had billed as a "dramatic announcement."
The prime minister opened his remarks with expressions of support for the legal system. "The system of justice is one of the foundations of Israeli democracy. There can be criticism, but I say this evening, there are judges in Jerusalem." Netanyahu's remarks follow widespread criticism accusing him of seeking to undermine the office of Attorney General and the courts in a video clip circulated at the weekend.
Referring to the allegations that as minister of communications had enriched his friend Shaul Elovitch by approving the takeover by Bezeq, which Elovitch controlled, of satellite broadcaster Yes, privately held by Elovitch, for NIS 1 billion, in return for favorable coverage on the Walla! News website which Elovitch also controlled (through Bezeq), Netanyahu asked why Assaf Eilat, who was responsible for approving the takeover in the Antitrust Authority, had not been questioned in the affair. "I demand that he should be summoned immediately, and they will hear from him that I did not intervene in the Bezeq-Yes merger… I acted completely professionally throughout.
"As for the most severe allegation against me: what do they mean when they talk about bribery? Money in envelopes, bank accounts, islands in Greece? They talk about favorable coverage. Did you hear? I, the most smeared public figure in the country's history, received favorable coverage? How absurd. All I received was hostility. If they decide for the first time in history that favorable coverage is bribery, then let them question Yair Lapid, who met Noni Mozes dozens of times at a secret location in Savyon and erased the documentation of those meetings and then voted for the closure of Israel Hayom. I, who dissolved the Knesset to forestall the bill, I'm the one they want to put on trial." Netanyahu was referring to recordings of meetings with Yediot Ahronot publisher Noni Mozes, in which he is heard offering to curb free newspaper Israel Hayom, which had taken market share from Yediot Ahronot, in return for a change in that newspaper's hostile editorial line against him. Israel Hayom is owned by Netanyahu's friend and supporter Sheldon Adelson.
Netanyahu claimed that the pressure on the Attorney General to indict him amounted to an attempt by the left to take power knowing it could never do so at the ballot box. "I could stop this terrible witch-hunt against me and against my family if only I would offer to divide Jerusalem and return to the 1967 lines and abandon Israel's security, but I will never do that. I will continue with the tremendous activity that is turning Israel into a rising power in the world. I demand a confrontation with the state's witnesses immediately," Netanyahu concluded.
The Ministry of Justice said in a statement that the investigation of Netanyahu had been conducted entirely professionally, and that it could not comment in the media on cases in progress. According to sources cited by Kan, Netanyahu had not demanded a confrontation with witnesses but had only raised it as a possibility in consultation with is lawyers, and that such confrontations were not customary. The sources also said that Yair Lapid's meetings with Noni Mozes had been investigated, and that it had been concluded that Lapid acted lawfully.
It should be pointed out that taking over the media in this way, at 8pm when the news bulletins are being broadcast, as a way of obtaining free air time for what is basically election propaganda, is a trick that can only be pulled a limited number of times in the course of a campaign.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 7, 2019
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