‘Netanyahu Pushed Me to Create an Israeli Fox News, Said I Can Make a Lot of Money From It’

“I told Netanyahu, ‘Because Channel 10 is available [to buy], do you think it’s a good idea?’ I respect his opinion, he’s a very good businessman. He told me: ‘It’s a terrible business with terrible people … but it’s not a bad idea. Israel needs different people in the media world. … Good if you can buy it.”

The speaker is Len Blavatnik, the Ukraine-born Jewish billionaire who made his fortune taking over companies that were privatized when the Soviet Union collapsed and is today considered one of the richest people in Britain.

In Israel, Blavatnik is the owner of Clal Industries and a co-owner of Channel 13 (Reshet). He now wants to drastically cut the budget of that channel’s news company, formerly Channel 10 News – which for years has been considered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nemesis because of its investigative reports about him and the critical line it has taken. The threat of cutbacks has led to a battle between the station’s management and the news company’s employees, who want to preserve its character.

In 2015, Blavatnik himself was in a fight with high-tech entrepreneur Ilan Shiloah to acquire Channel 10. The channel had three shareholders: Yossi Maiman, Ronald Lauder and Arnon Milchan (who, according to the indictment in one of the corruption cases against Netanyahu, supplied the prime minister and his wife Sara with a steady supply of expensive cigars, champagne and jewelry).

In the end, Blavatnik assumed control of the station through the media group RGE, of which he is a partner. Channel 10 later merged with the former Channel 2 franchisee Reshet, and it’s estimated that Blavatnik has so far invested over 200 million shekels ($57.5 million) in the venture.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Jerusalem District Court for the start of his corruption trial, May 24, 2020. Amit Shabi

When Netanyahu was being investigated by the police over suspicions that he received gifts and other benefits from wealthy patrons, members of the national fraud squad tried to ascertain how involved the prime minister was in the Channel 10 deal. He was also serving as communications minister at the time. The previous owners, including Milchan, made millions from the sale.

Toward the end of August 2017, the head of the investigations team, Chief Superintendent Momi Meshulam, landed in London to take Blavatnik’s testimony in the probe.