Newspaper article International New York Times

How to Silence the Israeli Right

Newspaper article International New York Times

How to Silence the Israeli Right

Article excerpt

Sheldon Adelson is turning the country's media into a pro- Netanyahu chorus.

Last month, the American billionaire Sheldon Adelson bought a small, right-wing religious newspaper in Israel, Makor Rishon, for 17 million shekels, about $5 million. Having done that, Mr. Adelson is now not merely an important player in Israel's right-wing newspaper scene: He is the only major player. This might be good for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Adelson's favorite politician. But it is bad news for Israel's public sphere.

Mr. Adelson's dominance of this segment of Israel's media market began soon after Mr. Netanyahu's return to power in 2009. In 2011, Mr. Adelson's Israel Hayom became the country's largest-circulation newspaper, with approximately 1.5 million copies, surpassing Yediot Ahronot, which for years had dominated Israel's market.

It was bound to happen. Yediot Ahronot charges a fee for the paper; Israel Hayom is free. For many readers, who only want a newspaper to skim through, without giving too much thought to its content or ideology, Israel Hayom is a good option. Except for a tiny quirk: On every issue, at every juncture, it always seems to take the prime minister's side.

Many Israelis, especially on the left, rolled their eyes at Israel Hayom. After all, it's the most-read paper, controlled by an American casino magnate and reflexively supportive of Mr. Netanyahu. It represents a nightmare for opposition parties, and for other newspaper owners who don't have Mr. Adelson's deep pockets. Emotions and rhetoric fly high on this issue. One of Yediot Ahronot's leading columnists wrote about "an ultimate ugly display of wealth of a super-tycoon." Israel Hayom refers to Yediot Ahronot as "the evil empire."

But Mr. Adelson's rivals have reacted foolishly to his newfound dominance; they try to legally compel him to charge a fee for Israel Hayom. Seven Knesset members signed a proposed bill in March calling for a ban on free newspapers. Their stated cause is defense of "free media," but that's a dubious claim. They want to weaken a paper that makes life harder, politically and commercially, for Mr. Netanyahu's critics.

But this isn't just a battle between the left-tilting opposition and a right-wing Netanyahu backer. It's a battle that trumps political allegiances, which makes it more complicated but also much more consequential.

Last week, an exchange of insults erupted between Israel Hayom and the right-wing economy minister, Naftali Bennett, of the Jewish Home party. (Mr. Bennett is a coalition partner of Mr. Netanyahu's but also a sworn political foe.)

Mr. Bennett called Mr. Adelson's paper "Pravda," and he vocally supports the anti-Adelson legislation. He has also reportedly become cozier with Yediot Ahronot's publisher, Arnon Mozes, even though Yediot's editorial line is to the left of Mr. …

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