Vote on Closing Pro-Netanyahu Paper Postponed

Knesset will vote on Israel Hayom Bill next Wednesday, after it is discussed in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

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Yisrael Hayom distributor (file)
Yisrael Hayom distributor (file)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Knesset will vote next Wednesday on a bill dubbed the Israel Hayom Law, which is intended to bring about the closure of Israel Hayom, a freebie newspaper that broke the ultra-leftist monopoly on mainstream print news when it began coming out in 2007. The vote was originally scheduled for today but postponed by one week after Coalition Chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and other faction heads agreed to let it be debated first in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

According to Walla! News, the bill is expected to enjoy the support of coalition factions Yesh Atid, Hatnua and Yisrael Beytenu.

The bill is intended to bring about the closure of the freebie newspaper that broke the ultra-leftist monopoly on mainstream print news when it began coming out in 2007.

The paper is handed out at train stations and on the streets, and depends on advertising for its income. It is owned by US businessman Sheldon Adelson, who is considered close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Unlike its mainstream competitors, it is not prone to hounding the prime minister, making insulting comments about him, or writing damaging exposes about his wife's character. 

Nationalists note that the paper also tended to be soft on Netanyahu when he froze construction  in Judea and Samaria, released terrorist murderers, and demolished Jewish hilltop communities. 

Critics say the paper fails the test of democratic journalism and serves the government in a way reminiscent of dictatorships, while operating at a large loss. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett has gone so far as to slam the nationalist paper with the label "Pravda," in a reference to the official mouthpiece of the Soviet Union.

Many Jewish Home voters are dismayed by their party's co-sponsorship of the bill, which risks bringing the nation back to the times in which all mainstream print media was ultra-leftist in character. However, inside sources in the party have claimed the support is meant to put pressure on Netanyahu for political purposes, and that the party's MKs will probably withdraw their support at the last minute.

Labor MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) has informed the Knesset Secretariat that he is considering presenting the "Israel Hayom bill" to the Knesset for a preliminary reading on Wednesday. Should the bill ultimately passed, it would prohibit the free distribution of newspapers in Israel.

Cabel told Israel Hayom he was still undecided as to whether to present the bill on Wednesday or postpone it until a later date, because he still wanted to consult with other co-signatories.

Coalition officials have tried persuading the bill's co-creators – MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), and Elazar Stern (Hatnua) – not to present it to the Knesset today, but rather wait a week for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which convenes on Sunday, to formulate the government's position on the bill.

MKs Yoel Razvozov‎ (Yesh Atid) and Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas), who had originally signed the bill, asked the Knesset Secretariat to remove their names from it, reported Israel Hayom Tuesday.

According to a senior coalition official, "Even when there are arguments and disagreements, even extreme ones, the Knesset's normal rules of conduct need to be maintained without overstepping boundaries. Those who overstep these rules need to keep in mind that next time they may find themselves on the other side of the fence."

Yesh Atid wants delay 

Channel 10 News reported Monday that the Yesh Atid party had also asked MK Cabel to delay presenting the bill.

Israel Hayom reported that Cabel has apparently decided to bypass the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, due to concerns the bill will not secure the required majority vote there.

Government regulations stipulate that when an MK proposes a bill but has chosen to bypass the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the coalition members are required to oppose it. Several Knesset sources, however, predicted to Israel Hayom that some members of the coalition parties will still vote in support of the bill.

The bill's stated purpose is "to advance and strengthen the printed press in Israel and to ensure equal conditions for real and fair competition between newspapers."

The bill defines a free daily newspaper as one that is distributed six days a week, contains at least 30 pages on weekdays and 100 pages on weekends, and it applies only to the four newspapers with the highest circulation in Israel, whatever they may be at a given time. The lowest-priced newspaper of the four cannot cost less than 70% of the second-lowest-priced paper, according to the bill.

“Coincidentally, the bill's definition of a free newspaper only 'fits' one newspaper in Israel, which is Israel Hayom. The Israel Post, for example, is only distributed five days a week,” noted Israel Hayom.

Call forwarding to the PM's office

Israel Hayom newspaper on Tuesday urged its readers to phone and e-mail the office of MK Cabel in mass numbers, and "voice their displeasure over the bill he authored and which would limit the distribution of free newspaper."

Cabel, however, fought back against the newspaper’s campaign - by having the phone calls forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office. 

According to Walla! News, in the afternoon hours, Netanyahu’s office became fed up with the flood of phone calls and sent a Knesset technician to Cabel’s office so that he would cancel the call forwarding.