Hefetz: Netanyahu gave direct order to get Iran speech story on Walla

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “sat next to me” while we edited a video draft of an interview “on my laptop” he had given to Walla, but was unhappy with, his former top aide and now star state prosecution witness Nir Hefetz testified on Wednesday
On day three of his testimony before the Jerusalem District Court regarding Case 4000 the Bezeq-Walla Affair, Hefetz referred to an interview Netanyahu gave to Walla on March 11, 2015, leading into the March 17, 2015 elections.
Netanyahu was furious at the Walla reporter for interrupting some of his answers, noted Hefetz, and originally ordered that Walla was prohibited from airing the interview at all.

Hefetz said he was next to Netanyahu while the former prime minister called Walla owner Shaul Elovitch and ordered him to order his CEO and editors not to air the interview.

Eventually, then-Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua convinced Hefetz to convince Netanyahu that the interview was acceptable in terms of content, despite the reporter’s interruptions, and offered to let them edit the full video draft if Netanyahu would then allow the interview to run

Hefetz said that his and Netanyahu’s direct editing of the video in which they gave specific orders to Yeshua of portions to cut “broke all of the rules” of journalism.

In another instance, Hefetz testified that Netanyahu “gave a direct order to me” to be in touch with Walla officials to ensure a story about his 2015 Iran speech to the US Congress would be prominently covered by Walla.

Hefetz referred to text messages between himself and top Walla officials on October 2, 2015.

According to the texts with former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, Hefetz demanded that Walla prominently post an article about the Zionist Organization of America criticizing other American Jewish groups for not supporting Netanyahu’s speech criticizing the Obama administration’s signature Iran deal.

Hefetz said that the item was in a category of issues that would be “hard to get coverage for in the media. It was not interesting for the [Israeli] media. This would only get in with strong pushing. It was internal American issues that were not interesting to the [Israeli] editors and [Israeli] public.

In other words, Hefetz explained that the only reason Walla covered the item was as part of the control of Walla media coverage for favorable communications policy within the framework of the Bezeq scheme.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

While the defense highlighted that Hefetz said he did not remember the specific conversation he had with Netanyahu on the issue, the star witness said, “No one else would give me orders about issues like this. Everyone got this information from Benjamin Netanyahu. This is his expertise. I carried out these orders with zero discretion. What he ordered, I carried out to the letter.”

In another instance on November 2, 2015, Hefetz texted to Yeshua and Walla-Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch about a story that Netanyahu wanted coverage for to try to defray the public focus on a state comptroller report about the prime minister’s residence scandal.

Hefetz wrote he wanted Walla to give prominent coverage to the article which undermined the state comptroller’s report (and therefore boosted Netanyahu) and that the request came from “my friend.”

Next, he said that the reference “my friend” was a known code between him, Yeshua and Elovitch for Netanyahu.

Once he mentioned “my friend”, Hefetz said, “there was not even a one in a million chance that our request would not be fulfilled. What we requested, they would do – for Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Further, he said that he specifically remembered Netanyahu’s direct handling of the issue.

According to Hefetz, pushing the state comptroller’s criticism of him and his family out of the news “was of giant strategic importance in the days leading up to elections.”

Hefetz said Netanyahu viewed his electoral chances as directly linked to getting the public discourse focused back on his national security expertise and away from negative debates about his and his family’s ethical problems.

Moreover, he said he remembered that Netanyahu made presentations to the entire Likud list about how they should respond to questions relating to the prime minister’s residence scandal.

The scandal related to a wide number of issues mostly connected to whether Sarah Netanyahu had fraudulently misused state funds.

She was eventually convicted in a plea bargain in one of the affairs, the Prepared Food Affair, but was given only a fine with no jail time.

In addition, he testified that Netanyahu had given him a direct order to get Walla coverage from Yeshua of his initiative to get the public to weigh in on the two last candidates he could add to the Likud election list.

Hefetz has been testifying daily since Monday and is considered a crucial witness for the prosecution because of his deep closeness to Netanyahu and ability to testify firsthand on all of the different aspects of the complex alleged media bribery scheme.

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