Home > Foreign Funding of Israeli Right, Israeli Neoconservatism, Suppression of Dissent > The Knesset move against Sheldon Adelson and the remains of Israeli democracy

The Knesset move against Sheldon Adelson and the remains of Israeli democracy


UPDATE/ADDENDUM: December 10 2009 — Noam Sheizaf at Promised Land and Bryan Altinski by e-mail both point out that by supporting this legislation, I’m ultimately undermining the same freedoms I’m trying to defend. Point taken. No end justifies the means. Especially when freedom of speech is at stake. I wrote, “in this atmosphere one is tempted to clutch at straws,” and I have.

On Friday (December 4 2009) we surveyed US casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson’s ongoing intervention in local politics, trading American money for Israeli influence. Engaged for nearly two decades in building a highly effective local network of neo-conservative institutions, Adelson wanted more. In July 2007 he launched Israel Hayom, a blatantly pro-Netanyahu newspaper engaged in highly uncompetitive practices. We quoted Israeli prize laureate Nahum Barnea of Yediot, who, in a recent Globes interview, bluntly warned that Adelson was a clear and present danger to Israeli democracy.

This morning’s (December 9 2009) Maariv reports (full text after jump) that a bi-partisan Knesset bill seeks to bar foreign ownership of Israeli newspapers

A large group of Knesset Members is seeking, through new legislation, to restrict control of the Israeli media by people who live abroad. The bill calls to ban people who are either not citizens or residents of Israel to receive a license to own a newspaper.

Good news.


This has been a terrible year for Israeli democracy. Already fundamentally flawed — more than three million stateless and right-less Palestinians under effective Israeli control for42 years; institutionalized discrimination against an “enfranchised” Arab minoritysevere restrictions on religious freedom — what is left is being undermined. The freedom of expression and association of Israeli citizens has driven an extraordinarily open public debate for a country at war. Since the the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, however, these rights have been constantly questioned by the security establishment and right-wing partisans . The Gaza war accelerated the process exponentially. Dissent was systematically silenced and the domestic media debate was all but monolithic.

The Netanyahu government is poised to deliver coup de grâce. The combination of Lieberman putinism and Shas chauvinism is enough to turn every day into a rearguard action to defend another threatened freedom. But another development presents a much more fundamental threat. In an ironic twist, just as the neoconservatives exited DC, they took office in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister’s Office is staffed by movement ideologues (many of whom are alumni of Adelson’s Shalem Center.) They are working towards a restructuring of the Israeli public sphere and are working closely on this effort with partners formally outside the government — Dore Gold of the JCPA, Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor and Gonen Ginat of Adelson’s Israel Hayom, for example.

One major vector is the Ron Dermer initiated campaign to suppress Israeli human rights NGOs, currently led by Steinberg. Over the past two weeks, with everyone else focused on the settlement freeze, I have bored Coteret readers with daily accounts of a last-ditch defense waged by progressive civil society groups.

Dermer and friends

A border-less Israel has been in a perpetual internal security crisis at least since 1967. It does not have a constitution or a real tradition of pluralistic democracy. Bouncing back may be much more difficult than it was in for post-Bush US.

In this atmosphere, one is tempted to clutch every passing straw and I jumped all over the Maariv story. An extraordinary coalition of MKs, a Likud hardliner hand-in-hand with an Arab nationalist. Does the Israeli Knesset, at the bottom of the ladder in terms of public trust and castrated by the executive branch, still have a collective survival instinct? Probably not. Interests have met, however. For those to the left of Netanyahu, the partisan motivation is clear. Miri Regev is positioning herself as a populist leader of the Likud’s internal opposition to Netanyahu. Israel Hayom has not been kind to her. The Haaretz report on the bill adds something Maariv neglected to mention

Yisrael Hayom’s popularity is seen mainly as a threat to Maariv; Nimrodi has been meeting MKs in recent weeks to discuss the matter. A Nimrodi associate, attorney Ram Caspi, took part in drafting the bill.

Incest is an apt description for the relationship some Israeli MKs have with local captains of industry and financiers.

No matter. Tourniquet comes first, bandages later. In any case, it too early to celebrate. There is a lot of horse-trading ahead before before the bill even makes it to the Knesset floor.  

MKs mobilize for newspapers owned only by Israelis

Arik Bender, Maariv, December 9 2009

A large group of Knesset Members is seeking, through new legislation, to restrict control of the Israeli media by people who live abroad. The bill calls to ban people who are either not citizens or residents of Israel to receive a license to own a newspaper.

The bill provides a clear definition of who may own a media outlet in Israel. The bill reads, in part, “No license shall be granted unless the applicant is a citizen and resident of Israel and/or a corporation registered in Israel, and the ability to direct its activity and at least 51 percent of all means of direct or indirect control over it are in the hands of either Israeli citizens or residents of Israel.”

“The goal of the bill is to set the world of Israeli journalism in order,” said MK Hasson (Kadima). “We want to change the situation in which a person who is not a resident of Israel and the center of whose life is not in Israel can own a newspaper by means of his money and use it as a kind of mouthpiece in order to represent clear interests, while most of the readers either don’t know or don’t realize the hidden interests of the publisher, who often does this for free. Today it’s Sheldon Adelson, a foreign citizen who owns Israel Hayom. Tomorrow, a Saudi businessman will establish a newspaper and wrest control over public discourse here and influence Israel’s public opinion without our knowing a thing about either the interests that he represents or his goals.”

MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) said that he has no problem with newspapers being given out for free but, rather, with the identity of the person behind the action. “I don’t know what his motives are, but he’s touching Israeli democracy’s holy of holies—he’s molding the face of Israeli society,” he explained. “Personally, I feel badly that a man who made most of his money in casinos or by means of casinos, who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew and doesn’t live here, should hold such a key.”

MK Eitan Kabel (Labor) joined this position. “The importance of this bill is first and foremost that the need to ensure that the Israeli media should be led by Israelis who have knowledge and awareness of what’s happening in the country,” he said. “The media isn’t just a business.” In addition, MK Miri Regev (Likud), who supports the bill, said that members of all Knesset factions support the bill. “I see it as a fundamental principle, not a personal one,” she said. “It’s intended to preserve pluralistic discourse in the media and in the public.”

The chairman of the United Torah Judaism faction, MK Eliezer Menahem Mozes, said that this is a broad assertion. “Just as I oppose the idea that Israeli citizens should vote abroad or that foreign citizens, even if they’re Jews, should vote in Israel,” he said, “I am against the notion that the foremost element that influences public opinion in Israel, the media, should be under the control of a foreign citizen who will try to dictate our public opinion.”

MK Dov Hanin (Hadash) said that this stems from the media’s influence on Israeli life. “There is a problem with the idea that people who are not part of this society should have the power to affect society’s agenda in a dramatic way,” he said. “The media is a neutral tool, and therefore we think that the owners of the media ought to be Israeli citizens.”

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List/Arab Movement for Renewal) said that journalism must be preserved, and that its owners should be compelled to be residents. “The relationship between big business and government is problematic,” he said, “particularly if it is motivated by foreign funds and ulterior motives.”

  1. rakiah
    December 10, 2009 at 20:52

    I would suggest here that the fact that the newspaper is foreign owned is not the issue. The issue at hand is the close personal, political and monetary relationship between individuals and parties in the Israeli government and Adelson, and how this relationship influences and shapes coverage in his newspaper.

    The notion that the Press is the fourth estate rests on the idea that the media’s function is to act as a guardian of the public interest and as a watchdog on the activities of government.

    The problematic relationship between Adelson and the government is the issue and it would still be the issue if he lived in Savyon or Cesarea.

  1. December 10, 2009 at 13:53
  2. December 20, 2009 at 01:53
  3. December 27, 2009 at 18:57
  4. February 14, 2010 at 15:25
  5. March 18, 2010 at 11:54
  6. March 20, 2010 at 02:20
  7. March 25, 2010 at 15:44
  8. July 29, 2010 at 12:09
  9. November 13, 2011 at 14:14

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