Israel Hayom, the free rightwing tabloid which has become second only to Yedioth Ahronoth in circulation, has launched its counter attack on the MKs and newspapers publishers which have been trying to pass the “journalism law” in the Knesset. If approved, this bill will allow only Israeli citizens to publish daily newspapers. Israel Hayom is owned by the gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the richest Jew in the world, who is known for his conservative views and his close friendship with PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an interview to Jacob Berkman at JTA, Adelson called Arnon Moses, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, “the most powerful man in the State of Israel” and blamed him for attempting to block Israel Hayom.
Adelson said that Israel Hayom is not endorsing or supporting Netanyahu specifically (Adelson reveled that some of this criticism actually gets to him when he used the nickname the paper got in Israel, Bibi-ton), and that by publishing the paper he wasn’t trying to involve himself in Israeli politics, but rather give the Israelis a “fair and balanced” newspaper.
JTA: Your critics say that your involvement has been or could be detrimental to democracy in Israel. How do you answer those critics?
Adelson: Who are you talking to? J Street? What I am doing is detrimental to the State of Israel? I would like to know what they are doing that is positive for the State of Israel. What do they view as positive and negative?
You were also close at one time with Ehud Olmert, but you broke with him over ideological differences (namely Olmert’s readiness to accept a two-state solution). Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly voiced support for a two-state solution.
What are you trying to figure out?
Do you still stand behind Netanyahu now that he has come out in favor of a two-state solution?
I am not against a two-state solution if it is on the right terms. But I don’t think the right terms will ever be achieved.
In Israel, your political involvement is well known …
What political involvement? I am not involved politically in Israel. Period. And everybody thinks I started the newspaper Israel Hayom purely to benefit Bibi. Nothing could be further from the truth. I started the newspaper to give Israel, Israelis, a fair and balanced view of the news and the views. That’s all. It is not “Bibi-ton.” It is not a newspaper started for and operated for Bibi. And this is the propaganda of our competitors to say to their customers, “Don’t take Israel Hayom seriously because all it is a promotion for Bibi. …”
All it is just competitive propaganda. I am not involved politically whatsoever.
So why do you think people outside of the newspaper business have latched onto this idea?
Because they read it in Yedioth and Maariv. Because [Arnon] Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth, is the most powerful man in the State of Israel and all he wants is to maintain his power, and he manipulates the government.
The truth is, of course, that Israel Hayom is “fair and balanced” exactly as the news network that invented this phrased (I wrote more about this here). Ofer Nimrodi, publisher of the tabloid Maariv – which also took a mostly rightwing approach in recent years – said in a recent interview that during business negotiations with Adelson, the American billionaire accused him that his paper “is not patriotic enough.”
“Sheldon negotiated in an arrogant way… he raised absurd demands.” at a certain point, claims Nimrodi, Adelson accused him that he is not Zionist and Patriot enough. “You don’t support the right leader, you cover Israel’s supporters in a deliberate negative way,” said Adelson, according to Nimrodi.
Israel Hayom’s editor, Amos Regev (another close friend of Netanyahu), published this Friday an editorial which made the same accusations against the publishers of Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth. He claimed both Nimrodi and Moses enjoyed for years unlimited access and influence on politicians, and that Israel Hayom made them fear for their powerful position.
After quoting John Stuart Mill on the freedom of speech in his paper’s defense, Regev also hinted that Israel Hayom is more patriotic then his competitors: “Israel Hayom is successful… because it doesn’t hold the view that Israel is always wrong and that our enemies are always right”.
Personally, I oppose the journalism Law, though not for the reasons Regev and Adelson mentioned. I explained more here.
And one last point: some might wonder why Haaretz is left out of this game. His publisher, Amos Shoken, doesn’t attack Israel Hayom, and Israel Hayom’s people are not blaming it for its lack of patriotism, even though there is no doubt that Haaretz is much more lefty than Yedioth and Maariv.
Like in most cases, you need to follow the money here: Israel Hayom is printed on Haaretz’s machines, and the money Adelson pays Mr. Shoken helps to keep Haaretz alive. Also, that fact that Haaretz is not a tabloid and not in direct competition with Israel Hayom certainly plays a part; and if Maariv collapses because of Adelson’s free paper, Haaretz might even gain a few more readers, not to mention some advertising. That’s why you have the leftwing paper and the rightwing one almost joining hands; Business is more important than politics.