A casual reader flipping through Israel Hayom over the past two days might not notice the dramatic change in the free daily’s normally fawning coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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But to the expert, it was immediately apparent: For the first time, the paper’s reports on Netanyahu’s state visit abroad weren’t accompanied by an article about his wife, Sara, or even a prominent picture of her.
Nor is this because no such pictures were sent to the media; pictures of Sara were available on Netanyahu’s Facebook page as well. Moreover, even coverage of the visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan was low-key compared to coverage of Netanyahu’s previous state visits abroad.
The above might seem like idle gossip, but senior sources say it has great significance. This editorial decision – made personally by Editor-in-Chief Amos Regev – indicates a crisis in the paper’s relationship with certain people in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The refusal to publish Sara Netanyahu’s picture, they added, was effectively a declaration of independence by Israel Hayom, owned by Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
One of the PMO staffers with whom Regev is at odds is Netanyahu’s spokesman, Ran Baratz. The falling-out reached its climax this week, when, for the first time since the paper’s establishment, not a single of its reporters accompanied Netanyahu on his trip.
The paper’s diplomatic correspondent, Shlomo Cesana, was supposed to be on the flight, but at the last minute, his ticket was canceled “on orders from above,” according to a source close to both sides.
Cesana has recently posted several tweets criticizing Sara Netanyahu. “Something’s happening to the prime minister and his bureau: No press statement goes out without the prime minister’s wife appearing in it,” he tweeted last month.
Cesana also signed a petition against Netanyahu by diplomatic correspondents in June, after the prime minister wrote a Facebook post accusing Israeli media of ignoring his visit to Russia.
“We’re united in the opinion that we don’t want a ‘free media’ like in Russia,” the petition said.
Cesana later voiced support for another petition criticizing Netanyahu, as well, but didn’t sign that one because his editors forbade it.
Cesana’s behavior has infuriated the Netanyahu family; hence the “order from above” to keep him off Netanyahu’s overseas trips. The previous such trip, to Africa, was covered by a different Israel Hayom reporter, Boaz Bismuth.
But Regev refused to permit anyone other than Cesana on the latest trip, so in the end, nobody from Israel Hayom went.
Cesana is just a symptom of a wider clash between Regev and Baratz. People close to both sides say Baratz has been making ever growing demands of Israel Hayom, which Regev, despite his support for Netanyahu, has refused .
The prime minister’s associates are also unhappy because other senior Israel Hayom staffers have recently begun criticizing him as well – primarily Dan Margalit, but also Mordechai Gilat. The latter wrote a Facebook post supporting Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker after Netanyahu lashed out at the journalist.
Netanyahu himself has also criticized Israel Hayom in closed forums. As Haaretz has previously reported, during one briefing for reporters, Netanyahu said that Israel Hayom has “little influence” despite its large market share.
Queried by Haaretz, Baratz said his relationship with Regev is professional and “correct.” Israel Hayom declined to comment.