MK Tzipi Hotovely
MK Tzipi HotovelyNissim Lev

Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has accused right-wing MKs who voted for the "Israel Hayom" bill this morning, or otherwise refused to vote against, of hypocrisy.

The bill passed its first Knesset reading this morning by 43 votes to 23, with nine abstentions. It has been criticized by many MKs and analysts as being undemocratic, given that it is essentially tailor-made to force the closure of just one newspaper.

If passed, the bill would forbid any of the four highest-circulating daily newspapers from charging less than 70% of the price of the second-cheapest paper. Though it does not name any specific paper and would in theory apply across the board, in reality, the only paper which would be affected is the free daily Israel Hayom.

The bill's main sponsor, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), has made no effort to hide the fact that he is targeting Israel Hayom, calling it "propaganda" for its staunchly pro-Netanyahu editorial stance. He has defended his efforts to shut it down by claiming it is undercutting other papers by charging lower rates for advertising - something which it can only do with the help of US billionaire and key Bibi-supporter Sheldon Adelson.

Those opposed - many of whom hold differing political views to the paper - counter that whatever way it is spun the law is an attack on free speech.

Hotovely has been a leading critic of the bill, and had some choice words in particular for several right-wing MKs who either voted for the bill or simply absented themselves from the vote.

"I am sorry to see my friends from the Right, who experienced the closure of Arutz Sheva, and fought so many years for freedom of opinion in journalism, disappeared from the vote at the moment of truth and even [in some cases] voted for the closure of a newspaper in Israel," she said.

Hotovely was referring to the closure in 2003 of Arutz Sheva's radio station - a move that was denounced as an attack on free speech at the time, particularly by right-wing legislators and activists - and was also spearheaded by MK Eitan Cabel.

Other nationalist MKs also condemned the bill; Jewish Home party Moti Yogev in particular expressed his sense of "embarrassment" that some members of his party did not oppose the bill.

"I am sorry, and I am ashamed that there are members of the Jewish Home faction whose names are signed on this bill," he stated. "I hope that this law will be struck down in the course of the legislation process and that we will not harm freedom of expression in Israel."

"According to these rules we should have closed down Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot a long time ago," he noted, referring to Israel Hayom's left-wing competitors.

"One shuts down a paper only if it is blatantly harming state security, or doing similarly grave things. This is a black day for democracy.”