Search and Hit Enter

How Adelson shaped Israel’s media – and Netanyahu’s legal entanglements

Years before Israeli politics and media were split into two camps, yes-Bibi and no-Bibi, a Jewish-American gambling tycoon named Sheldon Adelson landed here and ruled: Only Bibi.

Unlike other Bibi fans, Adelson put his money where his mouth was. He poured hundreds of millions of shekels into the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, for the sole purpose of making Benjamin Netanyahu Israel’s prime minister.

From a journalistic perspective, Israel Hayom was never very important. But as a goal-oriented political project, it was Israel’s most important newspaper, contributing to Netanyahu 11-and-counting consecutive years in office. Its contribution to Netanyahu’s entanglement in two criminal cases related to his obsession with the media was no less significant.

The contribution to Netanyahu’s long political life is hard to prove. It is Netanyahu’s exceptional political skill that has kept him in office for so many years. Yet part of his popularity is the direct result of the constant burnishing of his image, in which Israel Hayom played a significant role.

The paper’s role in Netanyahu’s legal woes is easy to prove. On July 30, 2007, Netanyahu was the head of the opposition and of Likud, with just 12 Knesset seats, hurting from the loss to Kadima that put Ehud Olmert in the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu had been finance minister from 2003-05, to the benefit of Israel’s economy and the detriment of Likud and his career. It was the date of Israel Hayom’s first issue.

Adelson, convinced that Arnon Mozes’ Yedioth Ahronoth was a problem for Netanyahu and for Israel, decided to publish a free, mass-distribution daily that would be open about its support for Netanyahu and would offset Israel’s strongest, scariest publisher.

In March 2009, less than two years after Israel Hayom’s launch, Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister. He soon fell in love with the idea of a newspaper that would do everything to keep him on the job and satisfied.

That drove him, and later his family, to see it as their personal property and to start making requests, big and small – most of them personal, a few related to national matters.

This led to various bills aimed at curbing Israel Hayom, with Mozes’ encouragement. One of the first was submitted by Miri Regev, then a first-time MK without ties to Netanyahu who sought to find her way via positive coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth.

That “love” led Netanyahu into what became cases 2000 and 4000.

Seeking to duplicate the adoration he received from Israel Hayom in other media outlets led to his allegedly illegal conversations with Mozes. It led to his alleged quid pro quo relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq and the Walla news website. With Mozes it was a cold business calculation: Mozes wanted to quell the competition posed by Israel Hayom, which was destroying his monopoly in Israel’s newspaper market. Netanyahu wanted adoration and support.

Their conversations, which were recorded by state’s witness Ari Harow, provide a rare glimpse into the unusual importance Netanyahu ascribed to mass media. You can’t help but conclude that he considered controlling them key to staying in power. Mozes told him: You need to make sure you are prime minister. In exchange, he asked that Israel Hayom’s circulation be reduced. He made that request of Netanyahu, not Adelson.

Case 4000 is also indirectly tied to the devoted care Israel Hayom gave Netanyahu. Netanyahu got used to being able to influence, change and determine what the lead headline would be, how events his wife attended would be covered, how fierce the criticism of his political opponents would be. And if that worked at Israel Hayom, why wouldn’t it work at Walla?

It did work there, but by this point Netanyahu was already allegedly on the criminal playing field. For some reason, he displayed atypical blindness and rashness, when he conducted alleged criminal negotiations with Elovitch. Netanyahu, communications minister at the time, didn’t report his social ties with Elovitch, gave Bezeq and Walla generous financial favors, and he and his family made countless requests regarding Walla’s coverage. To emphasize successes, to minimize other news items, to badmouth rivals, to glorify Netanyahu and his wife. Everything he did at Israel Hayom that was not criminal – Adelson didn’t want financial favors from Netanyahu – was allegedly carried out at Walla, with deep criminal implications.

Adelson’s deep, expensive support elevated Netanyahu, but it also got him into his criminal entanglements. Without Adelson, Israeli politics would be different.

Adelson is undoubtedly the person with the greatest influence on Israel’s media industry in the past 15 years.

Source: Sami Peretz – HAARETZ