After years of backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the free daily Israel Hayom castigated the premier’s “display of feebleness” and his “helpless” response to the Temple Mount crisis on its front page on Wednesday, in a large above-the-fold headline.
The headline was for an opinion article about what political correspondent writer Mati Tuchfeld referred to as the “metal detector surrender.” In the piece, Tuchfeld blasted the prime minister’s decision late Monday night to remove security cameras along with metal detectors installed outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in a bid to defuse spiraling tensions.
The decision made by Netanyahu was “aimed directly against his political base,” he charged.
As an alternative to the detectors, the security cabinet agreed to install within six months high-resolution cameras capable of detecting hidden objects. In the meantime, Netanyahu is reported to have instructed police to conduct individual checks on Muslim worshipers using hand-held metal detectors.
The security measures had been set up last week in the wake of a terror attack at the holy site on July 14 in which three Arab Israeli terrorists used guns smuggled into the compound to kill two police officers standing guard nearby.
Israel Hayom, which is owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has for years been staunchly loyal to Netanyahu. Its unfailing support of the prime minister has been characterized by the playing down of his failures, the hyping of his achievements, and the lashing of his critics.
All of that earned the paper the epithet “Bibiton” — a portmanteau of Netanyahu’s nickname, Bibi, and the Hebrew word for newspaper, iton.
But media analysts have noted a shift in its coverage of late that may suggest a cooling in the paper’s support for Netanyahu and his family.
In June, Israel Hayom reported on its front page about Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett’s plan to pass a law requiring the nigh-impossible support of two-thirds of the Knesset before Jerusalem could be divided in the framework of any peace deal with the Palestinians. The headline, in big, bold letters, was accompanied by a photo of Education Minister Bennett, who has been slowly gaining the backing of Adelson.
A few weeks later, at the celebratory meal marking the new School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Ariel University in the West Bank, it was Bennett who sat next to Adelson, and the two were spotted heartily toasting one another during a lengthy private conversation.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was seated at a different table and during the main ceremony sat at a distance from Adelson, awkwardly separated by one of his cabinet ministers.
Adelson is reportedly fuming at Netanyahu due to a conversation the prime minister held with Arnon “Noni” Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, allegedly about a quid pro quo deal that would have hobbled Israel Hayom.
Adelson reportedly told Israeli police last month that he was “surprised, disappointed and angered” to learn of the talks. The casino magnate had been questioned for four hours at the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit in Lod for a second time in under a month over the investigation — one of two ongoing probes of alleged corruption by Netanyahu.
In recordings of their meetings that were seized by police, Netanyahu and Mozes reportedly can be heard referring to Adelson as “the gingy [redhead].”
To make sure Wednesday’s anti-Netanyahu headline reached the widest possible audience, Israel Hayom also sent out a push notification to users of its mobile app.
Raphael Ahren and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.