News squeeze: Adelson's influence is now on the Israeli press
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A keystone of Israel's democracy is a free and vigorous press, including 22 daily newspapers representing a spectrum of the country's political opinion.
That press is particularly important as Israel approaches parliamentary elections Jan. 22 that will determine who will be prime minister.
An alarm has sounded in Israel at the growing impact on its press scene of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson. His fortune comes from casinos he owns in Las Vegas, Macau and, soon, in Spain. Mr. Adelson is known in the United States for having supported Newt Gingrich with an estimated $10 million when he was seeking the Republican nomination. He also pledged $100 million to help the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, defeat Democrat Barack Obama for the presidency.
Mr. Adelson owns a newspaper, Israel HaYom, in Israel. He has given it away free since 2007 and has cut its advertising rates, crashing the market for other Israeli newspapers and making the continued existence of some of the most respected papers, including Haaretz and Maariv, tenuous. Israel HaYom, which supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, now has an estimated 40 percent of the dailies' circulation.
So far, there has not been much overt criticism in Israel of the fact that Mr. Adelson is a foreigner, an American intervening in Israeli politics through his newspaper's support of Mr. Netanyahu and Likud. Israel, like the United States, has a free-market economy, and a capitalist with money is more or less free to deploy it as he wishes. At the same time, if Mr. Adelson were to succeed in eliminating any of the major Israeli dailies, it would be a loss for press freedom in Israel.
The risk for the United States is that if Mr. Adelson achieves a "double tap" victory, in America with Mr. Romney and in Israel with Mr. Netanyahu, the chances of Israel carrying out a military attack on Iran, drawing the United States into another Middle East war, will rise substantially.
First Published October 20, 2012 12:00 am