How Avigdor Lieberman Won the Battle for the Israeli Media That Netanyahu Lost

“You have neglected the only Russian who can be trusted,” wrote Shaul Elovitch, then the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, to Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of its Walla news website. In this text-message exchange on the eve of Israel’s 2015 election, Elovitch was referring to the kingmaker of Israeli politics, Avigdor Lieberman, who actually was born in Moldova, not Russia.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 52

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Yeshua wrote back that he would try to “move things forward,” and added a sentence containing a lesson about the connection between politics, money and the media: “The Russian puts all his election budget into Ynet” – a rival news site owned by the daily Yedioth Ahronoth – “and zero into Walla.”

Lieberman was right, Elovitch admitted. “We mow him down and they pamper him. Anyone would act like he does. Too bad; he could be a real friend.”

Back then, Lieberman was usually treated kindly by the media outlets in the Yedioth Ahronoth Group, and was considered a friend of the daily’s publisher Arnon Mozes – a friendship that neither side concealed. Elovitch, who was trying hard to coddle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, didn’t want to ruin his relationship with Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.

All told, Lieberman has succeeded where Netanyahu, once Lieberman’s political patron, has suffered a heavy failure: the weaving of close ties with some of the country’s economic elites and media barons.

After the 2015 election, as is his wont, Lieberman shocked Israeli politics, this time by staying out of Netanyahu’s governing coalition. In May 2016 came more shock: He entered the government and became defense minister.

“God help us – we can expect some crazy weeks,” Yeshua predicted in a text message 24 hours after that May 2016 appointment. “You have to be super alert,” warned his boss’ wife, Iris Elovitch, in the text-message exchange obtained by Haaretz. “On your site they’re going to attack like crazy.”