Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought “total and complete” control over his media image, his ex-spokesman told the graft trial of the veteran leader on Monday.
“If we use the term ‘control freak,’ he is much more than that,” said Nir Hefetz. “In everything relating to the media, he demands to know everything, down to the smallest detail.”
The testimony of Hefetz, seen as a key prosecution witness in Israel’s highest-profile trial, had been postponed from last week at the request of Netanyahu’s legal team.
Netanyahu — who was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, including a record 12-year tenure from 2009 to 2021, and now head of the opposition — has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The indictments collectively accuse him of accepting improper gifts and illegally trading regulatory favour with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.
Hefetz said in his district court testimony that Netayahu’s “control over everything relating to media matters and his social media channels could not be higher”.
“Netanyahu spends at least as much as his time on media as he spends on security matters, including on matters an outsider would consider nonsense.”
The session focused on Netanyahu allegedly granting favours to Shaul Elovitch, then-head of Israel’s largest telecom company, Bezeq, in exchange for favourable coverage by its Walla news website.
Netanyahu is accused of offering regulatory benefits that could have been worth millions to the company in return for the politically advantageous coverage.
Hefetz said that in 2015, shortly before elections, Elovitch contacted him regularly to lobby for governmental approval of his group’s merger with cable TV operator Yes, and to find out who would be the next communications minister.
“I think he (Elovitch) was thinking at the time: who knows who will win; so the Yes deal had to be signed first,” Hefetz said.
Netanyahu left after the first few hours of testimony Monday after receiving permission from the court.