Judge Orders Stay in Maariv Case, Putting in Question Sale to Ben-Zvi

Workers call off strike after meeting with court-appointed trustees.

A Tel Aviv court Sunday issued a one-month stay that puts in question IDB group's sale of the daily Maariv to Shlomo Ben-Zvi, the publisher of the right-leaning daily Makor Rishon.

A judge at the Tel Aviv District Court, Varda Alshech, said trustees would examine whether the paper could be put back on its feet financially and whether the proposed sale was proper, and whether another sale option was preferable.

Sources close to Ben-Zvi said that if Maariv's employees "push the limits and hurt the paper," he would walk away from the deal.

Meanwhile, Maariv's workers' committee has called off a one-day strike that would have canceled the daily's Tuesday edition on the eve of Yom Kippur. The work action has also been called off at the paper's nrg website.

Ben-Zvi has said that of the group's roughly 2,000 employees, he would retain about 300 editorial and administrative staff. But the sale to Ben-Zvi, which would not include the paper's printing plant, has been complicated by the stay of proceedings.

In her order, Alshech questioned Maariv's ability to recover financially and criticized management for seeking a stay after it had agreed for the newspaper operations to be sold to Ben-Zvi. The judge noted that the trustees overseeing the newspaper group during the stay are not bound by the sale agreement with Ben-Zvi and should exercise their judgment regarding the paper's future.

Maariv's employees have protested mass layoffs that would accompany the sale to Ben-Zvi; they are also concerned that they will not receive their full salaries or their full pension and severance pay. They called off the strike after meeting with court-appointed trustees for the paper, Yaron Arbell and Shlomo Nass.

According to the workers' committee, the trustees consented to a number of the employees' demands, including the continued employment of every Maariv worker during the stay at the same pay and on the same employment conditions.

The employees were also promised that they would receive data about the newspaper that they had requested. The trustees were also said to have agreed not to provide any further information to Ben-Zvi or any other potential buyer. In turn, the employees would not meet with a potential buyer to provide information about the paper's operations.

On the political front, the chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud ), says the panel will meet Thursday to discuss Maariv's woes and consider how the financial obligations to the employees can be protected. Due at the session are the newspaper's owners, executives, worker representatives and officials from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.