Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been forced to defend his elder son, Yair, and his own reputation, after a 2015 secret recording from outside a strip club featuring a conversation between Yair and two friends aired on Israel’s Channel 2 on Monday night.
In the tape, Yair Netanyahu, now 26, can be heard demanding money from Ori Maimon — the son of Kobi Maimon, an Israeli gas tycoon.
“My father did a good deal for you, brother,” Yair is heard telling Ori. “You have to be good to me.” Laughter can then be heard on the recording.
“We fought in the Knesset for it, brother,” Yair then continues saying. “My father battled for it, I remember.”
That’s when Yair asks Ori for a little over $100.
“You are crying over 400 shekels,” Yair taunts Ori. “My father sorted your father out with 20 billion dollars and you are crying over 400 shekels?” he adds laughing.
Later, Roman Abramov, another friend of Yair, who joined the two at the strip club, told the men, “This conversation should not get out. God save us. God, if this gets out, it will be hell.”
The gas deal referenced in the conversation centers on a proposal, by the Israeli finance ministry, for the dividing of future income between state and private companies. It was designed to stimulate investment in Israel’s burgeoning natural gas industry but was decried by its critics as corrupt.
The recording took place at the same time the Prime Minister was embroiled in controversy surrounding legislation regarding a newly discovered natural gas deposit in the Mediterranean Sea. Its broadcast comes as he is under investigation in two criminal probes which involve allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Benjamin Netanyahu denies any wrong-doing.
In a statement on Monday, the Netanyahu family criticized Channel 2’s decision to broadcast the recording, denied Yair had any involvement in the gas protocols, and emphasized that he was only joking. It also denied any wrongdoing on behalf of the Prime Minister regarding the gas deal.
“Every parent that watched the report should think how they would react if every false expression of their kids was turned into a headline on Channel 2, and every time they left the house, it was turned into an investigation and every conversation was turned into a hidden recording,” a Netanyahu family spokesman said in the statement.
“The PM has no connection with Kobi Maimon, whom he met only once about 10 years ago. The PM brought about the gas protocols because he wanted to encourage competition to the Tamar gas field under the ownership of Kobi Maimon.”
Yair apologized on Tuesday for the remarks in a statement released to Israel Channel 10 News, but he also accused Channel 2 of carrying out a witch-hunt.
“This evening, I watched the embarrassing ‘yellow’ report that showed an illegal hidden recording from a conversation that took place two-and-a-half years ago,” the 26-year-old’s statement said. “In a night-time conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I said nasty things about women and other things that should not have been said. These things don’t represent the person I am, the values I was educated on and what I believe.”
Condemnation in Israel quickly emerged in the press and from politicians. In a tweet in Hebrew, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Monday mocked the Netanyahu family statement.
“Compassion for the son?” the tweet read. “It’s impossible to get him back on the tracks because he was never on track. A narcissist that grew up in the mud of stinking corruption, with kickbacks of billions and grey deals on account of [the people of Israel].”
The audio recording also reignited debate about state protection for the Prime Minister’s son. Channel 2 reported that Yair was accompanied by a bodyguard around the strip clubs and had a car and driver that was paid for by state funds. The Netanyahu family defended the security detail because of threats they say that have been made against them.
It’s not the first time Yair Netanyahu has found himself at the center of controversy. Last September, he posted a meme on Facebook which targeted his father’s political enemies. The meme was widely deemed to have drawn on anti-Semitic imagery, and was reposted approvingly by American far-right leader David Duke. The post was later taken down.
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