Israel to ban daily newspaper?
A popular free daily newspaper handed out in train stations and on the streets may be banned by the Israeli government. Israel HaYom (Israel Today), which has the second largest daily circulation of any Israeli paper, is the subject of a Knesset bill that would essentially ban publication. Israel HaYom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, an American casino magnate.
The problem? A bill working its way through the Knesset would ban foreigners from owning a newspaper in Israel. The bill is sponsored by parliamentarians Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima), along with Ofer Nimrodi. The only problem? Nimrodi is the publisher of Maariv, the top-circulating paper in the country and Israel HaYom’s main competitor. The loose legal system in Israel does not currently prohibit foreigners from owning newspapers. The bill that would ban Israel HaYom was drafted by Nimrodi’s lawyer and Israeli television reports that he has been trying to recruit parliamentarians to the cause for months.
Merely seeking to ban a newspaper, however, is an improvement for Nimrodi. The Maariv publisher is an ex-con who was sentenced to 25 months in prison on counts of obstruction of justice, fraud, breach of trust, harassing a witness and falsifying corporate documents. But that isn’t the worst of it. In 1999, Nimrodi was arrested for hiring a hitman to murder the publishers of Israel’s two most popular newspapers. Really.
As for Israel HaYom, it publishes 250,000 copies of their weekday edition and also has a newly launched weekend edition. In Israel, it is popularly known as “Bibi Today” for its fawning coverage of right-wing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. The newspaper frequently takes a hectoring, jingoistic tone. The writing usually adopts a faux-populistic pose similar to that of the New York Post and The Sun. Foreign countries are routinely depicted as perfidious and anti-Semitic in their very bones and the Jewish settlers on the West Bank are just misunderstood Zionist pioneers. Allusions are regularly made to Barack Obama having Muslim ancestry and the op-eds play the anti-Semitic card every five seconds when they aren’t killing brain cells. With that said, their sports section really is quite good.
The newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, is an American billionaire who made his fortune with Las Vegas’ legendary The Sand casino and its various spin-offs. Adelson, who is Jewish, is married to an Israeli and founded Israel HaYom in 2007 after his attempt to buy Maariv fell through. Politically, Adelson has been a longtime ally of Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party — in Israel, it is widely believed Israel HaYom was founded as a favor to him. The newspaper’s depictions of Netanyahu and Likud are invariably positive.
The 178th richest man in America, Adelson is a well-known donor to Israeli causes. He donates approximately $25 million annually to Birthright Israel, which sends young non-Israeli Jews to the country for free, and gave $25 million to holocaust museum Yad Vashem in 2007. With that said, Adelson is also viciously opposed to any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Golan Heights — and his newspaper parrots that line. For those interested on reading up more on Adelson, the New Yorker’s profile is a must read.
The bill being pushed through the Knesset would make it extremely difficult for Israel HaYom to publish. Due to the country’s convoluted business and political system, it is likely it would not be able to publish after the bill was passed. However, Adelson’s close ties with the country’s prime minister and ruling coalition make it certain the newspaper won’t give up without a fight.
So either a jingoistic, nationalistic newspaper can keep publishing or a rival newspaper owner can use the parliament to shut down the nearest competition. If nothing else, Israel is interesting.