Secret Meeting Between Lapid and Adelson Suggests Shifting Alliances, Draws Criticism

After heavily attacking Sheldon Adelson, owner of the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, during the recent election, the finance minister met with him secretly two weeks ago.

A few months after he disparagingly referred to the daily newspaper Israel Hayom as “campaign advertising,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his wife met with its owner, Sheldon Adelson, and his wife at the Adelsons’ Tel Aviv residence.

The secret meeting, which took place two weeks ago and was first reported by Mazal Mualem on the Al-Monitor website, may signal a reshuffling of the alliances between Israel’s senior politicians and its leading media outlets.

To date, Israel Hayom has staunchly supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the paper not infrequently attacked rival politicians. Lapid, for his part, spent years working for the rival daily Yedioth Ahronoth, and that paper, long an opponent of Netanyahu, supported its former employee during the last election.

Lapid continued writing a column for Yedioth even after announcing his run for Knesset and, a few weeks before the election, the paper’s publisher, Arnon Mozes, hosted a farewell party for him at a Tel Aviv hotel.

During the campaign, Lapid frequently assailed both Israel Hayom and Adelson, an American Jewish casino magnate who is a major donor to the U.S. Republican Party. In one interview with Army Radio, given before the U.S. presidential election last November, Lapid said, “Israel has never before been close to any one [American] party, but Netanyahu brought it close to the Republican Party, because Sheldon Adelson finances him and because he knows [Republican presidential candidate] Mitt Romney. And now we’re stuck, because [U.S. President Barack] Obama, who will apparently win the election, views Israel as a branch of the Republican Party.”

As for Israel Hayom, Lapid once wrote on his Facebook page that the paper “is Netanyahu’s official organ”; on another occasion, he said that Israel Hayom’s activities should be considered campaign contributions.

“It would be interesting to examine whether the paper’s existence isn’t a NIS 300 million campaign contribution from Adelson to Netanyahu,” he said. “This will apparently be looked into after the election. If a donor to the prime minister finances a paper that supports the prime minister, that’s campaign advertising.”

The Finance Ministry and a spokeswoman for Lapid’s Yesh Atid party both declined to comment. Dan Raviv, Adelson’s representative, said, “We don’t comment on personal meetings, if one indeed took place.”

After news of the meeting broke on Thursday, opposition MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) assailed Lapid on her Facebook page.

“Lapid hasn’t explained why, instead of working for the middle class and the working man, it was urgent for him to go to a meeting with the squire and especially why the finance minister of the State of Israel should make a pilgrimage to the squire’s house,” she wrote. “The old Lapid criticized Netanyahu for harming Israel for Adelson’s sake, and to prevent Obama’s reelection, and also called Israel Hayom ‘Netanyahu’s organ.’ Yet now, Israel Hayom, which in the past attacked Lapid, is already Lapid’s organ: It praises him.

“It’s sad to discover that in just two months, Yair Lapid has become infected with the old politics," she continued. "We don't need another one; we already have one Bibi [Netanyahu]. But I’m happy that at least now, Yair Lapid knows where the money is,” she concluded, referring to Lapid’s campaign slogan, “Where’s the money?”

AP