Adelson's wealth used to destroy Israel's independent newspapers

September 12, 2012
Sarah Benton

Ben Gurion, Maariv and Israel’s Dying Democracy
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
September 12, 2012

Two deeply disturbing developments today that confirm the decline of what little is left of Israeli democracy. The first is the demise of Israel’s venerable Maariv daily newspaper. It is the second-most widely read paper in the country. The common man’s paper. Something like USA Today and in New York City, the Daily News.

Two words killed it: Sheldon Adelson. He pumped $40 million a year into an upstart competitor, Yisrael HaYom, which allowed it to be free. Bibi Netanyahu has credited it single-handedly with ensuring his election as prime minister. Bibiton, as it’s called, stole some of the more popular journalistic names from Maariv and Yediot and then stole its readership. The Israeli Knesset either couldn’t or wouldn’t defend its native press from unfair competition. So Maariv has died.

2,000 jobs have gone along with it. These are people who have worked in the field for decades. Where will they go? Who will take them? Yediot? Haaretz? They’re hurting too. Yediot, though more healthy, finds itself at a steep disadvantage with no deep-pocket investor willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars over decades to keep his vanity journalistic enterprise afloat. What Adelson is doing to Israeli journalism is akin to what John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil did to the little guys of the oil industry. He undercut them, drove them out of business, soaked up their remains and turned himself into a corporate behemoth. One capable of charging high prices because of the monopoly.

Adelson isn’t seeking precisely that sort of monopoly. He seeks a monopoly of ideas. Political ideas. In his dream, he sits atop a vast right-wing monolith. There may be a few outliers who he couldn’t subdue. Maybe Haaretz survives as a lone dissenting voice. Maybe not.

Who’s next? Haaretz is in failing health. It is about to fire 20% of its staff. Much of its revenue comes from its printing press which publishes, you guessed it, Yisrael HaYom. Maariv, which has been bought by a far-right settler rag called Makor Rishon, has not sold its printing press as part of that deal. Which means that Adelson will swoop in and purchase Maariv’s printing press and then abandon Haaretz, which would likely never find as solid a customer to replace Yisrael HaYom. This will mean that Haaretz will find a major hole in its bank account. Though it has substantial investment from a German industrialist and Russian right-wing oligarch, Leonid Nevzlin, one wonders how much they can afford to lose before they too back away.

All of which makes what I do and a number of other political bloggers do all the more critical. There are great investigative reporters and columnists in Israel. Long may they publish. But one wonders how long it will be before all of them will be swallowed by the maw of Adelson and his Likudniks. As the decline of independent media continues it becomes all the more critical that there be other independent voices like the bloggers I mentioned above.

Channel 10, one of Israel’s few independent channels, stands to lose its broadcast license if it doesn’t pay its broadcast licensing fees, which are far too onerous to afford. Though the government has forgiven and extended similar fee payments for other channels, Bibi has it in for Channel 10 because its reporters regularly expose nasty stories about him. It goes without saying that the government has also closed down Israeli-Palestinian communications ventures like All for Peace under trumped up charges that they don’t have a broadcast license (when they government simply refuses to offer one). The station continues broadcasting online to a far more limited audience.

I’ve also devoted a considerable amount of attention to the Israeli ultra-nationalist right’s onslaught against academic freedom. Im Tirzu and other witch-hunt style groups (based somewhat on the model of Daniel Pipes Campus Watch) have tarred and feathered various Israeli campuses for alleged anti-Zionist faculty members and course offerings. A trustee of Ben Gurion University even said that he wished a faculty member, whose political views he detested, would die. Ben Gurion’s president said that as far as she was concerned, Prof. Neve Gordon would be fired if she had the power to do so, after he penned a pro-BDS op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Ben Gurion is once again in the news and on the firing line. An international panel reviewed the political science department there (that’s the one in which both professors mentioned above teach) and recommended closing it unless it could add faculty that had more diverse political views and beef up course offerings. The department did this. Then the education minister, far-right Likud settler supporter Gideon Saar, appointed his own committee to follow up on the work of earlier panel. It too has just recommended the closing of the department.

Imagine this: the governor of your state (if you’re American) detests the politics of an academic department at the state university. So he instructs the state superintendent of education or the board of regents to appoint a committee and close the unit down. Imagine a major state university without a political science department. Can any school claim to be a serious institution of higher learning without such a major discipline? Of course, what they’ll propose is reorganizing the department and starting over. The education minister will no doubt ensure a more political palatable individual is appointed department chair and that person will begin from scratch. The result will be a unit far more in keeping with the minister’s political views.

Political interference? Nonsense. Strictly a matter of academic quality. And leftists, as everyone knows, are a poison that infects the tender minds of our young people and turns them into anti-Zionist extremists. It’s not a coincidence that Gideon Saar is a champion of Im Tirzu. I think we should dispense with empty formalities and appoint the group’s founder, Ronen Shoval, as the new department chair. What does it matter that he has no academic credentials? What’s more important? Sound Zionist principles or the wild pursuit of alien anti-Jewish values? Of one thing we can be sure: Shoval will create a new department in Likud’s image. And that’s as it should be.

For you Israelis and academics out there, here are the members of the “distinguished” committee that’s doing the bidding of the Likud’s education commissar, with their political affiliations where known:

Moshe Meor, Hebrew University (board member, Israeli Security Council, founded by IDF deputy chief of staff and Likud leader, Uzi Dayan)
Alah Belfer, Bar Ilan
Ofir HaIvri, Shalem Center (Likud think tank, not an academic institution)
Shmuel HaOzer, Ben Gurion (recently appointed by Likud finance minister Yuval Steinitz to a government commission)
Penina Gedai-Avniho, director, Tel Aviv University Hillel (not an academic position)
Uri Kedar, director of the Ben Gurion student union (not an academic position)
Tzila Sinvani-Stern, former rector of Ariel College (West Bank)
Manuel Trachtenberg, chair of government commission appointed by Netanyahu to co-opt J14 social justice movement

Add to this that the government has just voted to recognize a settler college, Ariel, as an official government-funded university over the objections of every president of every other Israeli university and the UK government–and you have an oncoming putsch in academia that matches the one taking place in Israeli media. Wherever the Israeli far-right sees tolerance, liberalism and freedom of thought it seeks to stamp it out ruthlessly. It is yet another manifestation of the permanent far-right majority which is designed to turn Israel into a state that chooses nationalism and religious identity over democracy. This is the rise of the authoritarian state and the death of the hybrid Jewish-democratic state cherished by liberal Zionists.

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Meanwhile, Sheldon Adelson’s free newspaper Israel Hayom has become the country’s most read paper. His mission is to promote his right-wing agenda and others are joining him.

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