Israel Hayom Will Kill Maariv in 2010, Claims Ofer Nimrodi

Maariv publisher Ofer Nimrodi has been lobbying Knesset members to support a bill that would prohibit foreigners from owning local newspapers, telling them that if the free daily Israel Hayom doesn't cease to exist, it could shutter his daily in 2010. No less.

It's no wonder that Maariv's publisher is nervous. Israel Hayom, launched and owned by American businessman Sheldon Adelson, is currently negotiating with the Defense Ministry to allow distribution on Israel Defense Forces bases. They are considering distributing 15,000 copies at military installations.

If the move goes through, this would bring the freebie one step closer to public legitimacy.

Thousands of copies of Israel Hayom already are distributed at the gates of several IDF bases, and the paper's recent launch of a Friday edition strengthens its chances of negotiating distribution inside the bases.

The IDF has to pay for the other papers it distributes. If the deal with Israel Hayom goes through, the IDF may start cutting back on paid subscriptions. Currently, the IDF receives 25,000 newspapers - 14,000 copies of Yedioth Ahronoth, 7,000 of Maariv and 4,000 of Haaretz.

No comment was available from either Israel Hayom or the IDF.

In recent weeks, Nimrodi has met with several MKs, including Yoel Hasson, David Rotem, Miri Regev and Daniel Ben Simon, four of the bill's 19 authors.

In its current version, the bill would make it illegal for Adelson to own Israel Hayom.

Not all MKs are enthusiastic about the private members' bill. Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Ofir Akunis, who also met with Nimrodi, has announced his opposition to the bill. He is a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is close to Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miri.

But even if the bill passes, Adelson may be spared. Some MKs have stated that they will be seeking an amendment that would effectively exclude Adelson by making it not retroactive. Yet others have said they endorsed the bill during a cabinet session at the request of MK Hasson without fully understanding its ramification.

"Adelson has contributed much to Israel, and this bill should not be applied to him," MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich told TheMarker over the weekend. MK Nissim Zeev said that although he had signed the bill, he believes that it should be amended to state that it will not apply retroactively.