MKs look to ban U.S. Jewish billionaire from owning newspaper

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon on Friday dismissed efforts by members of Knesset to pass a law which would bar individuals who do not hold Israeli citizenship from owning a newspaper.

“In my view, it will be difficult to win passage of a law that bans foreigners from owning newspapers,” Kahlon told a conference over the weekend in Rosh Pina.

“It will be difficult to pass it in the government, to the extent that I know the current composition of the government,” Kahlon said. “There is not a great chance.”

Israeli legislators from both the opposition and the coalition are sponsoring legislation that would bar American-Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson from owning a daily newspaper.

Adelson, a U.S.-based casino magnate whose fortune places him at the top of the list of wealthiest Jews in the world, is the founder of Israel Hayom. Adelson is also known to be a confidante and backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Among the lawmakers who seek to force Adelson into divestiture from the popular daily newspaper – whose circulation has been growing since it debuted on newsstands in the summer of 2007 – are MKs Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima).

The bill stipulates that any individual who is not an Israeli citizen or does not reside in Israel – like Adelson – cannot be the proprietor of a newspaper. The law would also mandate that 51 percent of the controlling interest in a newspaper must be held by an Israeli citizen and a resident of the country.

The proposed law is being backed by one of Adelson’s rivals in the local newspaper market – Ma’ariv publisher Ofer Nimrodi.

Nimrodi has met with a number of members of Knesset in recent weeks in hopes of bringing the matter to a vote. The wording and language of the legislation was believed to have been formulated by Ram Caspi, a high-powered attorney and a close Nimrodi associate.

The bill is in its final drafting stages and is likely to be put forth for approval in parliament this winter.

“The press has strategic power to change the face of society and to shape its norms,” said Ben Simon, who did not deny that Adelson was a target of the bill. “It is not only what is outwardly presented in the media that is important, but also who stands behind it, and as long as I do not know what the motives are of a man who made his money in the casino business, I wish to limit his power because his standing endangers the Israeli news media as it is presently constituted.”

When asked about the frenzy that Adelson’s newspaper has generated in the market, Kahlon smiled.

“[You mean] Adelson? Now you have decided to destroy my political career?” Kahlon asked sarcastically. “It is difficult to contend with someone who has a newspaper. Anyone who has capital has influence.”

“To the same extent, it is difficult to contend with a person who has capital and a newspaper,” Kahlon said. “When you cut stipends to senior citizens, it is the easiest thing to do [since] they sit at home and cry.”

“But when you go after a tycoon, he knows how to handle it,” Kahlon said. “That’s life. That’s why they got to where they did.”

“There are a number of players who own newspapers who do not need my advice,” the minister said. “They know how to get on. I saw it with Ma’ariv [which is struggling financially]. If [Adelson] never came, we wouldn’t have noticed it.”

“He threatens others, and others threaten him back,” Kahlon said. “Why get in the middle of that?