Daily Israel Report

Schocken Sells 20% of Ha'aretz; Media Agog

The sale of 20% of the leftist Ha'aretz newspaper to Russian oil tycoon Leonid Nevzlin has provoked much commentary and speculation in the media.
By David Lev
First Publish: 6/14/2011, 9:46 PM / Last Update: 6/15/2011, 12:12 AM

The sale of 20% of the leftist Ha'aretz newspaper to Russian oil tycoon Leonid Nevzlin has provoked much commentary and speculation in Israel's media, as commentators speculated on why the Schocken family would sell a large chunk of the paper to an individual likely to be at odds with their journalistic point of view – and whose extradition Russia has been demanding for several years, after he was convicted in absentia for several crimes, including murder.

Those charges are considered false – or at least without legal basis - by many, including Israel, which has refused to extradite Nevzlin.The charges stem from when Nezvlin was vice-President of the Yukos Oil Company, which was crushed by the Russian government several years ago.  He was a partner in the business with Mikhail Khodorovksy, who is currently in jail in Russa.

In 2008, Navzlin, who made aliyah in 2003,  was tried in absentia, found guilty of several counts of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Nevzlin called the court case a show trial orchestrated by Vladimir Putin.

Nevzlin was active in the Jewish community in Russia and Israel, and is chairman of the Nadav Foundation, which supports dozens of charitable causes. He is also chairman of the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, and sits on the boards of directors of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.

Nevzlin paid NIS 700 million (about $200 million) for his share of Ha'aretz, and joins fellow owners the Schocken family, as well as DuMont Schauberg of Cologne, Germany, which also owns 20% of the paper.

Commenting on the acquisition, Nevzlin said he was “happy” to be joining Ha'aretz. “I am convinced that together with the other board members of the company we will continue to develop the paper by further investments in core activities and the digital sphere, to the benefit of the readers and the advertisers in all platforms."

Veteran Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schocken said that the family decided to sell a share of the paper to Nevzlin after getting to know him for over a year, and that the paper would gain by having an individual with a fresh take on technology – and Judaism – on board.

Besides being close to Jewish causes, Nevzlin has a reputation in the Russian Jewish community of being more rightwing than Ha'aretz on many issues affecting the country. A reader of his Russian language website asked whether his purpose in joining Ha'aretz was to try and bring the paper closer to the center; Nevzlin said he couldn't comment.

One Israeli media report Tuesday said that before agreeing to sell to him, Ha'aretz made the new co-owner promise that he would not interfere with the editorial stance of the paper.

Writing in Globes, veteran columnist Matti Golan, giving voice to other opinion-makers in the Israeli media, questioned the deal, claiming that it is Nevzlin who was seeking a relationship with Ha'aretz in order to appear as a “proper businessman” and escape what Golan said was his reputation as a criminal.

“Russia has asked for his extradition, and the case is not yet over,” writes Golan. “Nevzlin may be a victim of persecution, as he claims, but still” the case is open. “What are such people looking for at Ha'aretz? ,” Golan added. “Since the newspaper is not a paying business, the prevailing view is that [Nezvlin] seeks to be identified with the paper's reputation as a respectable newspaper. In other words, something akin to laundering their past in exchange for their money - in the form of articles in Ha'aretz,” which makes a strong effort to make its new partners kosher.”