Talking to none-Israeli friends, I am often asked about the political affiliation of Israeli publications, or of certain reporters. So I have decided to dedicate a few posts to the Hebrew media, with an emphasis on the political role it plays (I don’t know the Israeli Media in Arabic and Russian well enough to comment on it).
I will start with a new and unique phenomena: A paper that was established to promote the interests of a specific politician, one Benjamin Netanyahu.
There are other major papers in the West which are known to support political parties or a certain ideology – but I don’t know of any paper that was launched with the intent to gain political influence, to promote one persons’ campaign to power, and doesn’t even attempt to make profit.
Israel Hayom is a free daily tabloid in Hebrew, established in 2008. Its Publisher is the American multi billionaire Sheldon Adelson, “the richest Jew on earth”, who made his fortune in the Casino business in Las Vegas and Macao. The paper has a circulation of 255,000 copies on weekdays, and currently has no Weekend edition. According to the January 2009 TGI poll, Israel Hayom is read by 23.2 percent of the Jewish public, which makes it second only to the tabloid “Yedioth Ahronoth”. The paper’s chief editor is Amos Regev. Israel Hayom has a web site in Hebrew that presents the paper’s printed edition in PDF format.
Sheldon Adelson, the owner on Israel Hayom (the name means “Israel Today” in Hebrew) is a known supporter of the Republican Party, George W Bush and Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson never hid his discontent with the Israeli media, which, he often claimed, is biased to the left and not appreciative enough towards Netanyahu.
After deciding, a few years back, to enter Israel’s media market in order to influence local politics, Adelson tried to buy the daily paper Marriv, but couldn’t reach an agreement with its owner, Ofer Nimrodi. In a recent interview to Globes, Israel’s financial paper, Nimrodi spoke of an argument he had with Adelson during their negotiations, in which the American billionaire accused him and his paper of “not being patriotic enough”.
After a failed attempt to buy a second paper – the free tabloid “Israeli”, which was since shut down – Adelson decided to open his own free paper. As the new paper’s editor he chose Amos Regev – a former journalist in both Yedioth and Maariv, who was know to have good relations with Benjamin Netanyahu. Regev was even said to attend several meetings with Netanyahu’s close team of advisers (Before he assumed the position as Israel Hayom’s editor).
With the help of Adelson’s bottomless pockets – this was well before his huge recent losses – Regev was able to bring to his new paper some of Israel’s most renowned journalists, including Dan Margalit, former leading columnist for “Maariv”; political annalist Chemi Shalev; Motti Gilat, Yedioth’s leading investigative journalist for 32 years; Yoav Kutner, Israel’s best known music critic; Ronen Dorfan, Israel’s best sports columnist (if you read Hebrew, don’t miss his blog), and more. Thanks to this team, Israel Hayom became a decent paper, one that shouldn’t be mentioned together with Israel’s poorly written and edited other free papers – “24 Minutes” and “Israel Metro” – but could rather be compared to the other tabloids, Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv. The problem with Israel Hayom is not professional, but political and ethical.
“A party’s leaflet disguised as a paper” – that’s how former PM Ehud Olmert’s spokesman called Israel Hayom in an official letter to the Israeli Journalism Council. Olmert’s aid got it right. Israel Hayom’s people are outraged whenever accused of being biased, but it’s a paper that makes Fox News actually look “fair and balanced”.
Israel Hayom will never miss an opportunity to flatter Netanyahu and to attack anyone who opposes him (their favorite target is Kadima). The opinion page on Israel Hayom might present different points of view from time to time, but it is the editorial line and the tone of writing on the News section that shapes readers’ minds – and here, the choice of the stories and headlines is almost always in favor of the boss’ friend.
One of the most blunt examples was on the Likud primaries day (Dec 8 2008). In the days leading to the primaries, there was some concern among Netanyahu’s supporters of low voters turnout, which would hurt his candidates for the Knesset. The headline of Israel Hayom that day was clear and simple: “Go Vote!”. During operation “Cast Lead”, when all political attention was focused on PM Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel Hayom ran several stories promoting the role that Netanyahu – then only a simple MK – had in gaining local and international support for the operation. Even this week, while other papers dealt with the possibility of tension between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government, Israel Hayom’s top headline quoted Minister Moshe Yaalon who attacked “Israelis who incite in the US against our own government”.
The ties between Netanyahu and Israel Hayom exist even on the personal level: the paper’s former deputy director, Nathan Eshel, a former NRP man, took a leave from the paper in the months leading to the elections in order to work on Netanyahu’s campaign, and later on became the PM’s chief of staff. All this time, Eshel remained listed as Israel Hayom’s representative for the Israeli Journalism Council.
Two articles published by The Seventh Eye – a media watchdog site founded by the Israeli Democratic Institute – concluded that Israel Hayom is largely biased in favor of Netanayhu. As Moran Rada writes on The Seventh Eye’s site,
“From the three cases studied here, it looks as though the editors (in Israel Hayom) did everything in their power to present Netanyahu in the most flattering way”.
In the weeks leading to the elections, there was speculation that given Adelson’s current losses, once Netanyahu is installed in the PM’s office, Israel Hayom will be shut down. Since then, the opposite has happened – Israel Hayom is still here, while Maariv and even Haaretz’s future is unclear due to significant financial loses. Rumor has it that Israel Hayom will soon start printing a Friday edition, which will include one or more weekend supplements. This will give Adelson’s people even more room to praise the PM and to push their right-wing agenda.