Israel’s Knesset to vote on closing ‘Israel Hayom’ on Wednesday


Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud): ‘A democracy shouldn’t close down newspapers’




The Knesset will vote on a bill to ban Israel Hayom Wednesday, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation did not decide on a government position on the measure.

Sheldon Adelson

Las Vegas gaming tycoon and Israel Hayom proprietor Sheldon Adelson. – Photo: REUTERS

The ministers voted on Sunday to give cabinet members freedom to vote according to their conscience on the bill, which means Wednesday’s preliminary vote in the Knesset could easily go either way.

The entire committee voted to be able to vote freely, except for Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), who thought they should reject the coalition-shaking legislation.

The bill in question, drafted by opposition MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), and co-sponsored by MKs from Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua and Yesh Atid – every coalition party apart from the Likud – states that it seeks to bolster the print newspaper industry by banning free newspapers.

The legislation defines a free daily newspaper as one that is given out without payment six days a week, and applies only to the four newspapers with the highest circulation, whatever they may be at any given time.

The lowest-priced newspaper of the four cannot cost less than 70 percent of the cost of the second-lowest-priced paper, according to the bill.

As such, the bill would realistically only apply to Israel Hayom, the pro-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paper owned by his major supporter and donor Sheldon Adelson, who also contributes to Republican candidates’ campaigns in the US, and the legislation’s supporters do not deny that they are targeting one newspaper.

Although Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) enthusiastically backed the bill, calling Israel Hayom freely distributed election propaganda, a Justice Ministry legal adviser said that there is no legal or factual proof that the bill is necessary, and that it could create a monopoly.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) spoke heatedly against the legislation, saying it is undemocratic.

“This creates a difficult precedent. A parliament can never close a media source in a democracy – only the market can close them. This is playing with fire,” he said.

“Although I have problems with Haaretz’s positions, and that is an understatement, I wouldn’t want the Knesset to vote to close it,” he said.

“It is strange that those who see themselves as liberal want to close a newspaper,” Steinitz concluded.

Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) told Steinitz not to lecture the ministers, and that they have not all decided how they will vote in the plenum.

“You’re telling us this bill is undemocratic, but last week you voted for a bill to reverse High Court cancellations of laws, and that is undemocratic,” Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) said.

Following the vote, a senior Likud source said: “There’s Fox News and MSNBC [a right-wing and left-wing cable news channel, respectively] in America. Why can’t we have pluralism here? Why do parties to the Left that call for pluralism want to close a newspaper?” As for rumors that Netanyahu will do anything to stop the bill from passing, even dissolving the Knesset, the source said that he does not think an election will be called over the Israel Hayom bill alone, but that the issues on which the coalition cannot come to an agreement are accumulating and any of them could be the final straw.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) recused himself from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation vote, because of a conflict of interest, as his wife, Lihi, has a weekly column syndicated to Yediot Aharonot’s local newspapers and he had his own column in its Friday features magazine for nearly two decades.

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