Dozens of public figures signed a petition that was published Tuesday, calling on Anti-Trust Authority Director David Gilo to approve the sale of nationalist newspaper Makor Rishon and the NRG website to the Adelson Group, which owns Israel Hayom.
The signatories include leftist figures like Meretz head MK Zehava Galon, ex-MKs Yair Tzaban and Avraham Burg, Prof. Asa Kasher, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, and journalists Yaron London, Moti Kirchenbaum, Prof. Moshe Negbi and Keren Noybach.
Less surprising signatories include Israel prize winning journalist Yaakov Ahimeir, Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud), ex-MK Prof. Aryeh Eldad, singer Yehoram Gaon, and Yesha Council Chief Foreign Envoy Dani Dayan.
The employees of Makor Rishon and and the Maariv-NRG website held a protest outside the offices of the Anti-Trust Authority Director Tuesday. The businesses' appointed trustee, CPA Chen Berdichev, announced last week that he will have to close down the news outlets and fire all of their employees, if the Anti-Trust Authority Director fails to approve their sale to the Israel Hayom group by week's end.
The editors of Makor Rishon wrote an editorial Friday in which they expressed concern that Gilo is facing heavy pressure from “business and political interests” – which presumably include Israel Hayom's main competitor, Yediot Aharonot – not to approve the deal in time to save the newspaper.
"We are in a critical, do or die situation now,” said Makor Rishon's political correspondent, Ariel Kahana, in the meeting. “We are on a stopwatch until Thursday evening, and the entire story is in the hands of the Anti-Trust Authority Director. Right now, faced with the court appointed trustee's announcement, the lack of approval for the Adelson Group purchase is, in effect, a writ of closure. It is inconceivable that a newspaper would be closed down in the name of freedom of business.”
Makor Rishon Editor-in-Chief Uri Elitzur said that the times were “serious and sad.” Unless the sale is approved by Thursday, he added, “the newspaper will die and turn into a carcass. A newspaper that does not come out turns into a carcass, and I am not sure the Anti-Trust Authority Director understands this.”
Sheldon Adelson, who owns Israel Hayom, is considered to be a supporter of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Buy publishing Israel Hayom as a freebie newspaper that is distributed to the public at no charge, he created competition for Yediot Aharonot, which until then was the nation's largest newspaper by far and enjoyed near-monopoly status. Makor Rishon's circulation is miniscule in comparison to Israel Hayom and Yediot, but it is considered a high-quality newspaper with more intellectual appeal.
MK Orit Struk (Jewish Home) called on the Anti-Trust Authority Director to speed up his decision. “The newspaper's shutdown will be a serious blow to freedom of expression and could gravely hurt this quality newspaper's readers, and the special hue it adds to public discourse in Israel,” she warned. She expressed hope that senior journalists would join her call, as they did when Channel 10 faced closure.
Unlike Makor Rishon, Channel 10 leans heavily to the political left. It has been repeatedly saved by state loans from shutting down.