By Matthew Kalman www.NYDailyNews.com
JERUSALEM — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul, has been accused of bringing “ruin” to Israel’s newspaper industry.
The American owner of the Sands Casino in Las Vegas has poured money into a free daily newspaper called Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today).
Aggressive marketing and popularity among government supporters has rocketed the paper to the top of Israel’s newspaper industry, bringing competitors to their knees.
The iconic Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv is close to bankruptcy — and is likely to soon become an online-only publication except on weekends.
Another paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, which used to command about 60% of the Israeli market, recently laid off dozens of its staff.
Ha’aretz, the left-leaning intellectual broadsheet, announced 70 layoffs this month.
“Yisrael Hayom has finished Ma’ariv, and it is now finishing Ha’aretz,” a senior Yedioth Ahronoth executive told the Israeli financial daily Globes. “The fact that a billionaire has come here and pours money on to the streets, destroying newspapers like Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz is an issue that has not received sufficient discussion. Adelson has simply brought ruin to the Israeli newspaper market, and the Israeli politicians who benefit from its flattering coverage have allowed this unprecedented phenomenon to occur.”
Sensing the danger in 2009, politicians of all stripes — encouraged by Yedioth and Ma’ariv — united in a failed bid to disqualify foreigners from owning a controlling stake in an Israeli newspaper.
“I don’t know what his motives are, but he’s touching Israeli democracy’s holy of holies — he’s molding the face of Israeli society,” said Daniel Ben-Simon, a Labor Party legislator.
“Personally, I feel badly that a man who made most of his money in casinos or by means of casinos, who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew and doesn’t live here, should hold such a key.”
The bill was also supported by Miri Regev, a leading member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, who said it was essential “to preserve pluralistic discourse in the media and in the public.”