Jewish American billionaire and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Makor Rishon weekly newspaper for NIS 17 million ($4.85 million) was approved Sunday by the Jerusalem District Court. By purchasing Makor Rishon’s parent company, Adelson will also gain the almost defunct Maariv daily and its still-functioning news website, NRG.
Both Makor Rishon and NRG are expected to be managed by Adelson’s Israel Hayom Company, which publishes Israel’s most widely read daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, which is distributed for free.
According to the terms approved by the court, which are still subject to the approval of government antitrust authorities, Israel Hayom will employ 95% of Makor Rishon and NRG workers for at least a year.
Makor Rishon and NRG are currently owned by Israeli businessman Shlomo Ben Tzvi and his family. 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’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.
Several hours before the proposal was authorized, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett attacked the bid, comparing Adelson’s Israel Hayom to Kremlin mouthpiece Pravda and accusing the paper of unfairly siding with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on most issues.
“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.”
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.
Israel Hayom is a relative newcomer to the Israeli media scene. It was first published in 2007, and now has the highest daily circulation in Israel.
Adelson is a staunch supporter of Netanyahu and of American conservative politicians. He has donated heavily to the Republican Party in the US, spending over $92 million helping mostly losing Republican candidates in the 2012 elections.
Yifa Yaakov and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.