In terms of shameless political corruption, I doubt anything can match the extraordinary efforts by MKs from the majority of Israel’s political parties to promote legislation calculated to damage or destroy the nation’s most popular and widely circulated daily newspaper.
The campaign against Israel Hayom is beneath contempt. It emanates from Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot which, prior to the advent of Israel Hayom, totally dominated the Israeli mass media.
Israel Hayom was established by billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, a friend of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and who is also probably today the greatest financial donor to Jewish and Israeli causes. The paper is politically center-right and its editorial policies basically support the Netanyahu government. Yet it prides itself on opening up its pages to opposing viewpoints – ironically including op-eds from some of the MKs now seeking its closure. In contrast, Yediot is notorious for excluding any dissenting opinion while frenziedly promoting supporters, such as discredited former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The far-left post-Zionist Haaretz newspaper, in a crude political outburst by one of its writers, Sefi Rachlevesky, did not even seek to camouflage its bigotry: “Israel Hayom is no newspaper. Israel Hayom is an anti-newspaper that exists to destroy the free press. Israel Hayom is illegal. If existing laws were enforced, it would have been shut down long ago.”
With a team of respectable journalists, Israel Hayom shattered the left-wing monopoly of Yediot and Haaretz and is now the most popular tabloid in the country. It has succeeded in expanding newspaper readership in Israel at a time when it was shrinking throughout the rest of the world. In a very short time, it also obtained the support of major advertisers demonstrating that, as in other countries, free newspapers in Israel which base their income exclusively on advertising can also become successful commercial enterprises (e.g. the UK’s Evening Standard).
The bizarre argument employed by those promoting the legislation is that in order to ensure freedom of expression and maintain competition, a newspaper must not be permitted to be circulated on a free basis. This premise is so primitive that it does not warrant a serious response. The suggestion that legislation denying free circulation of newspapers would strengthen freedom of expression is a concept George Orwell would have relished.
IT IS also ironic that Labor MK Eitan Cabel has no shame in now spearheading efforts to close down Israel’s popular independent newspaper.
It was Cabel, himself a former minister overseeing the Israel Broadcasting Authority, who was at the forefront of demands that taxpayers’ money be invested in order to retain the bankrupt independent Channel 10 TV.
Incidentally, nobody suggests that TV channels 1-10 and soon 20 should be considered anti-democratic because they do not charge viewers to watch the programs.
The proponents of this legislation are motivated by two factors. They are frustrated with the presence of a powerful newspaper which refuses to join the traditional media-bashing and personal vilification of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Secondly, many of the MKs who are engaging in this operation are enjoying the rewards of being gleefully promoted by Yediot Aharonot – the main beneficiary of the demise of Israel Hayom.
Those promoting the legislation are spearheaded by the Labor party, Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi and cover virtually the entire political spectrum of the Knesset – other than Likud.
For Labor, a party which purports to be at the forefront of promoting civil liberties, to be engaged in supporting a Bolshevik-style infringement of freedom of expression is utterly hypocritical. But Yisrael Beytenu is worse. Its leader, Avigdor Liberman, portrays himself as a tough realist, diametrically opposed to “political correctness,” and denounces as “delusional” those who regard Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas as a peace partner. So it is breathtaking that he has joined the pack, eager to close down the only daily newspaper which genuinely reflects this policy – presumably because Israel Hayom supports Netanyahu.
Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi is even more outrageous. How a purported nationalist-religious leader can have the chutzpa to actively support legislation that would close down the sole newspaper promoting the national camp is simply despicable.
Bennett disgraces the national-religious cause when he unashamedly allows his personal prejudices to betray his ideology and adopts an approach which would harm the national camp.
It is difficult to comprehend why other members of his party enable him to pursue his vendetta against the prime minister which, if successful, would have an immensely negative impact on their cause. If he proceeds along this path, religious Zionists should make it clear that they would not support the party so long as he remains leader.
The fact that 80 percent of Israelis polled have indicated their opposition to and indignation over this proposal paints a clear picture.
Even though the legislation will not pass, it remains a blot on the Israeli political system that these hypocritical politicians felt sufficiently secure that they could behave so arrogantly without a massive electoral backlash.
Unless they withdraw their wretched legislation, we would be doing ourselves and the nation a great service if we communicated our intention of punishing them at the next election.
(For the sake of full disclosure, I am a regular op-ed contributor to Israel Hayom.) The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org