A Jerusalem judge on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disclose the timing of all his conversations with American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and with Amos Regev, editor of the Adelson-owned daily newspaper Israel Hayom.
The ruling by Jerusalem District Court judge David Mintz came in response to a Freedom of Information petition by Channel 10 News and journalist Raviv Drucker.
“There is an important public debate over whether the objective of Israel Hayom is to serve the prime minister,” the petition stated. “Divulging the timing of the conversations will enable the public to clearly assess the question of whether there is a link between the prime minister and the newspaper.”
Drucker previously published an investigative report into the operations of Israel Hayom.
Opposing the petition, the Prime Minister’s Bureau argued that the conversations were private and “unconnected to the prime minister’s ministerial work.”
“The information will reveal the prime minister’s relations with his personal friends” – matters which are the prime minister’s private business, the bureau said.
Mintz wrote in his ruling that the newspaper occupies a grey area between public and private matters and that the boundaries of the term “privacy” are not defined in the law.
Privacy, he continued is a simple concept with boundaries that are difficult to define. “We are dealing with information that pertains to a person’s social circles and to his contacts with other people who could be included in his private affairs.”
“That said, when the person in question is a public figure, such as the prime minister, it is possible that even information pertaining to his social circles exceeds the boundaries of private matters,” the judge stated.
“A person who takes public office opens himself up to a large extent to public scrutiny, even more so when that person occupies the most senior position in the government.”
The court also cited the multiple ministerial offices held by Netanyahu, which include that of communications minister.
“The information requested from him is the timing of conversations he held with people who are clearly from the media, irrespective of whether the press falls under the Interior Ministry or the Communications Ministry,” the judge said.
Referring to the argument of the prime minister’s bureau that revealing the conversations could lead to the disclosure of other information by means of cross-referencing the timing of the conversations with events that occurred at the same time, the judge said:
“The opposite is the case. That argument supports the argument of the petitioners.”
“Tracing any sort of connection between the dates of the conversations and events known to the public could indicate the veracity of the claim that there is true public value in the information,” Mintz said.
“After all, the timing of the conversations in question, when viewed as a whole and correctly weighted between the various interests, could constitute the type of information that should not be subject to privacy concerns.”
The court ruled that Adelson and Regev should be informed of the outcome of the petition before the information is divulged to enable them to appeal.
© Haaretz Daily Newspaper