Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party, on Sunday reacted harshly to reports that business magnate Sheldon Adelson was making a bid to purchase the Makor Rishon weekly newspaper, comparing Adelson’s Israel Hayom free daily to Kremlin mouthpiece Pravda.
Adelson, a Jewish American billionaire and media mogul who is known to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly offered more than NIS 10 million ($2.87 million) for the purchase of the paper, which is currently owned by Israeli businessman Shlomo Ben Tzvi and his family.
By purchasing Makor Rishon, Adelson would also gain the recently defunct Maariv daily and its still-functioning website.
In an interview on Army Radio, Bennett blasted Israel Hayom as a Netanyahu “mouthpiece” that couldn’t be considered “a real newspaper.”
“Israel Hayom is Pravda, it’s the mouthpiece of one man – the prime minister,” Bennett said. “At every point where there was a contradiction between the national interest and the prime minister, the paper always preferred the prime minister: on the declaration of a Palestinian state, on the Bar-Ilan speech [in which Netanyahu expressed support for a two-state solution], on the [settlement] freeze, and in the battles against [far-right Likud MK Moshe] Feiglin and against me.”
He added, “It saddens me a little, but Israel Hayom is not a real paper.”
Adelson is a staunch supporter of Netanyahu, and has donated heavily to the Republican Party in the US, spending over $92 million helping mostly losing candidates in the 2012 elections.
Bennett said he feared that Makor Rishon would leave its conservative Zionist and national religious values and begin toeing the Netanyahu line along with Israel Hayom.
Bennett was not the first to compare Israel Hayom to the Soviet newspaper. In 2013, Avigdor Liberman made the same comparison after the paper ran a story about the Jerusalem mayoral election that the foreign minister called “spin.”
Israel Hayom is a relative newcomer to the Israeli media scene. It was first published in 2007 as a Hebrew-language paper that was distributed for free. Today, it has the highest daily circulation in Israel.
The Makor Rishon company, which owns Maariv and the Makor Rishon newspaper, is said to owe creditors, including freelancers and employees, some NIS 3.5 million ($1 million) due to Maariv’s lackluster performance.
Earlier this month, Ben Tzvi stated that Maariv owed NIS 50 million ($14.3 million). Ben Tzvi has told courts that his company cannot currently pay its debts. He had reportedly invested some NIS 90 million in the daily over the past year and a half.
Adelson presented his offer through his Israel Hayom company, which publishes Israel’s most widely distributed daily newspaper, Israel Hayom. According to the Walla news portal, Adelson would continue to employ most of the Makor Rishon company’s staff, while Maariv’s website, NRG, will continue to operate as well. Maariv’s print edition, however, is expected to fully merge with the Makor Rishon newspaper.
Adelson’s proposed price topped offers by four other bidders, including The Jerusalem Post company and a group of investors represented by Udi Ragonis, the Makor Rishon company’s current CEO, Walla reported.
Though the deal between Israel Hayom and the Makor Rishon company was not yet officially finalized, sources close to Adelson said they expected to receive a positive answer over the purchase from Makor Rishon company trustees in the coming days.
Israel Hayom officials have maintained that Makor Rishon would continue to operate independently.
Adiv Sterman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.