Knesset Throws Out Bill to Ban Free Newspapers

Legislative committee's rejection of proposed bill is victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ally Sheldon Adelson, owner of no-cost daily Israel Hayom


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Sheldon Adelson
Tess Scheflan

In an important victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Knesset legislative committee on Sunday threw out a proposed bill to limit the publication of free newspapers.

The bill, known as the 'Israel Hayom' (Israel Today) bill after the free news daily whose circulation it sought to restrict, was proposed by Marina Solodkin MK (Kadima). Had it become law, it would have banned the private publication of free papers for periods of more than a year.

Nine ministers from Netanyahu's ruling Likud party voted against the proposal. Two from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party voted in favor - despite expected pressure from the prime minister to maintain coalition unity - while one MK from Shas abstained.

Two committee members, Yaakov Ne'eman and Yithak Herzog, ruled themselves out of the vote over a conflict of interest as their law firm, Herzog-Fox-Neeman, had represented Yisrael Hayom's owner, U.S. businessman Sheldon Adelson.

Five other minister were absent, apparently confirming a prediction by Netanyahu's aides that some coalition MKs would stay away for fear of annoying Israel Hayom's main rivals, the mass-circulation dailies Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth.

Adelson had hired a lobby firm, Policy, to campaign against the bill.

In a legal opinion published before the vote, Barak Medina, vice dean of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, wrote:

"The bill is an unlawful violation of the rights enshrined in Israel's basic laws on the freedom of occupation and on human dignity and freedom, as well as a violation of the freedom of expression, the right to property and to equality, among others."

He added that if the bill passed, it would probably be struck down by the courts.

Solodkin had said she did not expect the bill to make it through the Knesset, and even before the vote was already working on an alternative proposal, based on singling out Yisrael Hayom for predatory pricing.

The new bill, co-sponsored by MKs Miri Regev (Likud ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), would prohibit the sale of products or services for less than half of what it costs to provide them.