New Bill in Knesset Attacking Freedom of Speech in Israel

November 4, 2014

4 min read

A new law in the Knesset which is slated to be voted upon on Wednesday has been tailor made to make one specific newspaper in Israel illegal, the Israel Hayom Daily.

The law, nicknamed ‘Israel Hayom Law’, is, according to its draft, couched in enough legal jargon to make it only applicable to Israel Hayom and is a not so veiled attempt to outlaw the paper. The paper is owned by Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, who Forbes Magazine has listed as the 10th richest person in the world.

Adelson is a strong supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the paper has been accused many times as being biased in favour of Netanyahu. A report in Ha’aretz from earlier in the year accused Israel Hayom of being a Netanyahu mouthpiece.

israel hayom logo“It seems it [Israel Hayom] was founded and continues to be funded by Adelson for one purpose only: to support Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies and ensure the Likud leader remains prime minister,” the report said. “Netanyahu’s rivals, from left, right and within Likud are ridiculed by the newspaper, while any criticism of the prime minister and especially his wife, is dismissed as ‘persecution.’”

In spite of Israel Hayom’s new kid on the block place in the Israeli media, being only seven years old, the paper has succeeded in making quite an impact on Israeli mainstream media.

Politicians who are often castigated in the paper feel threatened, and have begun to take action.  The Israeli government, particularly the centrist-left Hatnua party, has felt many of the effects of the widely publicized newspaper.

Israel Hayom’s recent readership level has vaulted the paper into the most widely read and distributed newspaper in Israel, according to the most recent bi-annual report by Globus Magazine.

Yediot Aharonot, the second most distributed newspaper in Israel, continues to see its readership dwindle as Israel Hayom’s distribution continues to increase. Recently, the media upstart surpassed the Old Goliath in distribution.

Israel Hayom’s popularity among Israelis has rubbed a lot of politicians the wrong way as Yediot Aharonot holds many vested interests for politicians in the Knesset. This is especially true for Yesh Atid leader and Minister of Finance Ya’ir Lapid, who used to be a columnist at the paper and whose wife still is.

Another minister who is perturbed by the turn of events is Likud MK and Minister of Development of the Negev and Galilee Silvan Shalom, whose in-laws are the owners of Yediot Aharonot.

Numerous other MK’s, who have seen their approval rating plummet after continual negative reports on them appeared in Israel Hayom, are unleashing a vendetta against the largest daily paper in Israel.

The bill has received support from MK’s in every coalition party, except for Likud, as well as other MK’s who are not in the coalition.

Ha’aretz further showered Israel Hayom with a ‘sour grapes’ routine, poo-pooing the far more successful and widely distributed newspaper as being pro-Netanyahu and claiming that it is nothing more than campaign literature.

“The reason for Adelson’s newspaper’s existence, it appears, is simply that Israeli law does not allow large campaign donations,” Ha’aretz claimed.  

Justice Minister and leader of the Hatnua party Tzipi Livni, who enthusiastically backed the bill against Israel Hayom, has called the paper “freely distributed election propaganda.”

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. (Photo: Wiki Commons)
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

“My stance is clear. Israel Hayom is not a newspaper, it is election propaganda funded by someone very problematic with a worldview that goes against Israel’s interests,” she said.

However, a Ministry of Justice legal adviser Orit Koren, speaking on behalf of Attorney General Yehuda Weisntein, told the Ministerial Committee for Legislation regarding the proposed bill that there is no legal or factual proof that the bill is necessary and is likely unconstitutional.

“We do not see how the bill is supported by factual evidence that there is damage to the Basic Law: Freedom of expression,” Koren said. “Furthermore, the proposed law would need to justify the damage that the law would cause to the basic laws such as the right of ownership, free enterprise, and freedom of expression, and there is no evidence of that.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) spoke out vehemently against the proposed legislation, calling it undemocratic.

“This creates a difficult precedent. A parliament can never close a media source in a democracy –  only the market can close them. This (law) is playing with fire,” he said.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to give cabinet members freedom to vote according to their conscience on the bill. Wednesday’s preliminary vote in the Knesset could easily go either way, ensuring that the governmental coalition will not fall no matter what the outcome, although many feathers will likely be ruffled.

Should the bill be accepted in the preliminary reading, it will pass on to a committee headed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud)  to be prepared for a second reading. Should the bill advance to a second reading, it is expected by many to be buried in committee.

However, Israel Hayom financier Adelson is not taking any chances. Adelson, earlier in the year, following the bankruptcy of Ma’ariv/Makor Rishon,   purchased Makor Rishon and the Ma’ariv run website NRG, and now has two large media outlets under his control.

Israel Hayom published the telephone number of MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) who proposed the bill. Cabel began receiving thousands of complaints from readers and citizens who were against the bill. He, in a tit-for-tat move, forwarded his telephone line to the Prime Minister’s Office, who then called a technician in to undo the call forwarding, claiming it was causing a disruption in their work day.

Cabel, who was furious at the tampering, sent a letter to Speaker of the Knesset MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud), arguing that the PMO should not be allowed to send technicians to “break into” the office of an MK.

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