Israel Hayom is no newspaper. Israel Hayom is an anti-newspaper that exists to destroy the free press. Israel Hayom is illegal. If existing laws were enforced, it would have been shut down long ago. It is important to work against Israel Hayom, even at this late date. There is no democracy without a free press. And Israel Hayom is an imminent danger to this country’s free press.
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Israel’s laws regarding election campaigns and advertisements are clear. Their main purpose is to preserve the principle of equality and prevent wealthy people from using their money to buy votes. That is the reason that in Israel, there is government funding for political parties and private donations to political parties are restricted.
If I wanted to put up a billboard that read “Gideon Levy for prime minister,” I could. Levy, a Haaretz writer, is not a candidate. But if I were to put up a billboard reading “Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister,” the price of the billboard would be deducted from the advertising budget of the Likud party and Netanyahu, even if they did not know me. This law followed the Hassidic movement Chabad Lubavitch’s successful campaign in 1996, with its slogan “Netanyahu is good for the Jews.” Even if I were to hand out a flier praising Netanyahu, its budget would be deducted from Likud’s account. The purpose of the law is to avoid having the country flooded with elections propaganda.
Israel Hayom is no mere propaganda flier; it is a super propaganda flier. It is hard to find a word in it that does not look like it came straight from the Prime Minister’s Office. Every report, even the most minor, seems to be measured according to the degree it helps Netanyahu. And endless propaganda in favor of the prime minister is worse than propaganda for just anyone. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls his propaganda network “Russia Today.” Not in vain did he learn from Netanyahu.
Israel Hayom should be subject to a systematic probe by the state comptroller, who has no obligation to the prime minister who appointed him. In my opinion, after such a probe, each of the hundreds of millions of gambling dollars that are funneled into the propaganda project would be deducted from Netanyahu and Likud’s budget and prohibited as illegal election campaigning.
Worse still, if Gideon Levy were to rent a falafel stand and pay a year’s rent in advance, and I opened a falafel stand next to him that gave falafel away for free, I would inflict serious financial losses on him and cause his shop to close down. This is clearly forbidden in Israel. Israel Hayom also sells advertising at a huge discount, as the Seventh Eye Journal of the Israel Democracy Institute has pointed out. The purpose is clear: to trample the free media financially and bring them down.
In an interview last weekend, the transgressor took pride in the sin of his anti-newspaper. Sheldon Adelson outdid himself in telling his editors how he had tried to put the squeeze on Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes. If Mozes moved his newspaper to the political right, Adelson would not publish Israel Hayom at rock-bottom prices, which would harm Yedioth Ahronoth, he said.
I am familiar with the power of Yedioth Ahronoth — and not only in the pleasant sense. For that reason, I can confidently state that there is no resemblance between the two publications. Yedioth Ahronoth is a newspaper with power and problems. Israel Hayom is an anti-newspaper whose purpose is not only illegal election propaganda but also the destruction of real newspapers, bringing them to financial ruin, making them superficial, starving journalists and forcing them to obey Adelson’s order: Face right.
These are hard days for democracy. Every day, new boundaries are breached by government legislation and incitement forced on Israel by the right-wing religious extremists behind the “price tag” attacks on Arabs. It is not just Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Finance Minister Yair Lapid too has been revealed as a racist with no bounds, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as a collaborator. After arising from the voices of the social justice protest movement, both Lapid and Livni provided the ruler with a palace and aircraft worth a billion shekels, are helping to destroy public broadcasting, discriminate against Arabs and are liable to change the electoral system to keep Netanyahu in office.
In difficult times, a free press is the last obstacle to racist fascism and cannibalistic capitalism. Gideon Levy’s proposed defense of Israel Hayom (“Freedom of the press, at any price,” May 11, 2014) is not a defense of free expression, but the opposite. There is room for right-wing journalists. There is no room for the prime minister’s propaganda project, whose purpose is to shut the press down.