The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday agreed to allow coalition members a free vote on the so-called Israel Hayom bill, which is expected to come up for a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.
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All the ministers present supported the proposal except for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who accused his cabinet colleagues of backing antidemocratic legislation.
Steinitz was loudly reprimanded by Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry for his allegations.
Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that assuming the bill passes its preliminary reading, he will work to stymie its progress in committee and essentially block its passage.
The bill, sponsored by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) but cosponsored by members of all coalition parties other than Likud, ostensibly seeks to boost the print newspaper industry by forbidding dailies with a wide circulation from being distributed for free.
The only large-circulation daily currently distributed for free is Israel Hayom, which is widely regarded as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. The paper is owned by Netanyahu’s close friend and ally, Sheldon Adelson.
Senior coalition members said on Sunday the decision not to impose coalition discipline was a tactical one aimed at sparing Netanyahu embarrassment, since the heads of the other coalition factions had warned the premier that they planned to support the bill, no matter what.
“Netanyahu decided not to lose face,” said a Likud party source. “He knows that he has the power to bury the bill later on, and it wasn’t worth being remembered as someone whose ministers rebelled against him on the issue.”
Cabel admitted on Sunday he wasn’t sure the bill would be passed into law. “We’ll get past the vote this coming Wednesday and then see how we proceed further,” he said. He has previously said he is not “trying to close any newspaper. All I’m saying is they will have to sell it, even if not at everyone else’s full price.”