Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense in the Bezeq-Walla bribery case will receive additional correspondence from former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua tied to his involvement in skewing the coverage on the news website.
Recently the defense attorneys received, in error, correspondence between Yeshua and various politicians, businessmen and public figures who had approached Yeshua about coverage on the website. The attorneys argue that these exchanges indicate that Yeshua would intervene with the website’s coverage on his own initiative, and not just to benefit Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s attorney, Boaz Ben Zur, continued on Sunday with his cross-examination of Yeshua, arguing that Walla had given hostile coverage to Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015, and gave sympathetic coverage to Meni Naftali, the former chief caretaker at the prime minister’ residence who had sued the Prime Minister’s Office, claiming abuse by Sara Netanyahu.
The attorney, relying on analyses by the Mida and Seventh Eye websites, said Walla had published 23 opinion pieces on the speech to Congress, 17 of them negative. Naftali, meanwhile, had been covered by Walla more than by any other website. “The vast majority were pro-Meni Naftali articles and against the prime minister. There were 109 articles, and they approached you once, twice, three times [asking] for balance,” Ben Zur said.
Yeshua recalled one critical article on the address to Congress that he was asked to “sink,” and regarding Naftali, he said, “There was ongoing pressure, there was a series of articles against Meni Naftali. I didn’t keep statistics. I know what they were calling me about, and that I was told to take down every article in his favor.”
Ben Zur quoted to Yeshua from an interview he had given Globes in 2015 about Walla’s coverage. “[I] draw a line at the bottles (the case of Sara Netanyahu pocketing the money from redeemed bottles), and say, ‘up to a point.’ By the way, I’m not the one who draws the line, but editor-in-chief Avi Alkalai, who said to me, ‘Listen, enough with this.’ He told me, ‘I don’t want to deal with this trash 10 times a day.’ And when he said that to me, I said, ‘I think you’re right.’” When asked if he had lied in that interview, Yeshua said, “I presented a narrative to the reporter. I defend those demands that were fulfilled. I didn’t think that we had to remove the article about the bottles, I thought that was extreme. Under normal circumstances neither I nor Avi would have dropped the bottles story.”
Ben Zur presented Yeshua dozens of articles which he said proved that Walla did Netanyahu no favors. The judges interrupted him and said, “There’s no need to go over everything.” To which Ben Zur replied that since there’s an allegation of bribery, “We must see if it was given.” The prosecutor in the case, Judith Tirosh, said, “The indictment doesn’t relate to the general coverage on the website, that’s not relevant. It addresses the response to demands and that’s where the focus must be.”