Election Overseer Rejects Request to Suspend Israel Hayom Paper

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The free daily Israel Hayom.
A circulation-building campaign for the free daily Israel Hayom. Israel's election-oversight panel rejected an effort to suspend publication of the paper until after Israel's March 17 election. The petition contended that the paper was effectively campaign literature for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

Central Elections Committee Chairman Salim Joubran on Tuesday rejected a petition to stop Israel Hayom from distributing its newspaper until the election on the ground that it essentially constitutes campaign literature for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Joubran said the petitioner, attorney Shachar Ben-Meir, had failed to prove “an especially strong connection” between Israel Hayom and Netanyahu.

When a petitioner seeks to shut a newspaper because “for years, it hasn’t been a paper, but a campaign brochure for a candidate or party, he must prove an especially strong connection and base it on clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence ... given the significant harm to freedom of the press, freedom of political expression and especially freedom of occupation entailed in granting this request,” Joubran explained.

While Israel Hayom has never denied having a clear ideology linked to the political right, he continued, “If this were sufficient to declare a certain paper [campaign] propaganda based on its news coverage, I think this would also have implications for other daily papers whose ‘identity cards’ are linked to the political left.

“Granted, in a utopian world, the press would be completely objective and coverage would be news-based and devoid of any agenda. Nevertheless, in practice, such a press - and certainly with regard to political issues at the heart of the public debate - can’t exist in the real world.

“It’s incumbent on the reader to know how to separate facts from opinions, and on the paper’s editors and writers to help the reader in this work.”

Ben-Meir based his petition on an investigative report by Raviv Drucker for Channel 10 television and an analysis of recent news items by media researcher Anat Balint.

But Joubran said these didn’t prove the requisite strong connection.

To shut down the paper, Joubran explained, a petitioner would have to prove that Israel Hayom had either financial or organizational ties to either Netanyahu or his Likud party.

Ben-Meir claimed that Drucker’s report proved this. But Drucker’s own conclusion, as quoted in the petition itself, was that “I haven’t succeeded in sufficiently establishing ... the linkage between Israel Hayom and the prime minister’s bureau,” Joubran noted.

Netanyahu and Likud both submitted affidavits denying any connection to Israel Hayom beyond Netanyahu’s personal friendship with its owner, Sheldon Adelson, and “these affidavits weren’t disproved,” Joubran added.

He ordered Ben-Meir to pay 16,000 shekels ($4,050) to cover the respondents’ costs plus a 4,000 shekel fine.