Agents of PM Scramble to Quash Anti-freebie Law

Bill targets Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom daily as one of only newspapers distributed for free beyond its first year of publication.

Representatives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been working the phones ahead of today's scheduled discussion in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation of a bill that would bar the public distribution of a free newspaper beyond its first year of publication.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Sheldon Adelson
Tess Scheflan

The bill, which was introduced by MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima ), is aimed mainly at U.S. businessman and Netanyahu confidant Sheldon Adelson, owner of the very successful free paper Israel Hayom.

Lobbyists from the political consultancy Policy, retained by Adelson himself to persuade cabinet ministers and Knesset members to vote against the draft bill, are doing their bit for the cause as well.

Members of Netanyahu's ruling coalition who have spoken about the issue say they expect the committee to reject the bill because the prime minister views it as a personal issue. Netanyahu is expected to demand coalition discipline when the bill is submitted to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Aides to Netanyahu say they expect some coalition MKs to absent themselves from the Knesset during the vote, for fear of annoying Israel Hayom's main rivals, the mass-circulation dailies Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth.

Netanyahu is abroad and will not be there to see the tally, which spurred an unsuccessful attempt by his associates to pressure Solodkin into postponing the vote. "The premier's associates pressured me and are working against the bill," the Kadima MK said.

In an opinion paper on the bill, Prof. Barak Medina, vice dean of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, called the "Israel Hayom bill" 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 passes, it would probably be struck down by the court.

Solodkin does not expect the bill to make it through the Knesset, and is already working on another bill that would get the job done in a different manner, under the guise of an anti-predatory pricing law. The second bill, which is 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 make them or to render the service, respectively.