Attack on Iran: Israeli opinion shaped by US casino mogul

By Kevin Bloom 4 September 2012

Revelations last week that an iconic 60-year-old Israeli newspaper faces bankruptcy were met with accusations that it’s all Sheldon Adelson’s fault. The free-sheet daily, founded by the casino billionaire in 2007, is hammering the competition, and at the same time voicing uncritical support for Netanyahu. By KEVIN BLOOM. 

To read the English-language newsletter of the Israeli daily Israel Hayom on 2 September, 2012, was to understand the term “flooding the zone”. The lead item, written in the “authoritative” journalese endemic to the form, highlighted a statement on Sunday by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu that the world isn’t determined enough to stop Iran’s nuclear programme. Below that was a wire piece from the Associated Press, headlined “Analysis: Iran on the Threshold”. 

On the right, the opinion pieces continued in a similar vein—columnist Dan Margalit said the United States should specify what they mean by “later” (the reference was to the US policy on Iranian nuclear ambitions, summarised as “not now, later”), and Yoram Ettinger argued that US commitments to the security of Israel should enhance, not constrain, Israel’s independence of action.

Last Friday, the message out of the newspaper was the same—the only difference being that this time the lead was counterweighted by a column beneath it. On 31 August, Israel Hayom‘s headline story, pointing out that the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff refuses to be “complicit” if Israel strikes, was followed by the opinion of Dore Gold.

“If all that’s left to complete an operational nuclear weapon is a few more weeks of work,” wrote Gold, “then letting Iran reach threshold capacity is dangerous for obvious reasons: When nuclear breakout occurs, Iran can quickly build a substantial nuclear arsenal.”

Last Thursday? Yup, same again—a lead on the opening of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, where Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei called Israelis “ferocious Zionist wolves who digest the Palestinian people.” Which was a continuation of the dominant narrative from Wednesday’s edition, a take on Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Ya’alon saying at a service in Bulgaria that the “dictatorial, evil, and bloodthirsty” Iranian regime must be immediately placed in a position in which it needs to choose between developing nuclear weapons and its own survival. 

There’s nothing subtle about it: Israel Hayom thinks Netanyahu should bomb Iran as of yesterday. The newspaper, whose strapline reads “This is where we stand,” is letting Israelis know exactly where it stands.

Competing Israeli newspapers are heavily covering the Iran story too, of course, although they’re paying a little more attention to the fact that other things are going on in the world right now. On Monday, Yedioth Ahronoth carried top stories about Syria and the upgrade of a local university, and, as ever, the left-leaning daily Ha’aretz was letting citizens know what the government of Israel is doing to Palestinians in their name.

But, even if these newspapers are more cautious in their approach—reflecting nationwide majority consensus, Yedioth Ahronoth seems to support the line that an attack on Iran without US support would be a bad idea, while Ha’aretz appears unsure about the merits of an attack under any circumstances—the thing about Israel Hayom is this: it’s a free-sheet with the biggest readership in the country, and its owned and funded by United States casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.    

That would be the same Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, who contributed tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidate Newt Gingrich’s US presidential campaign—a matter that certainly didn’t help to increase the trust between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu earlier in the year. In March, Gingrich spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference two days after Obama and one day after Netanyahu, and laid into the US president for being “weak on Iran”.

It was only in late August, however, when news emerged that iconic Israeli daily Ma’ariv was close to bankruptcy, that affected Israelis got vocal about the havoc Adelson continues to wreak. 

Israel Hayom has finished Ma’ariv, and it is now finishing Ha’aretz,” a senior Yedioth Ahronoth executive said in the Israeli press. “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.”

As has been observed in the wake of Ma’ariv’s troubles—the loss-making 60-year-old paper plans to stop appearing as a weekday title and convert to a digital-only edition unless new investors are found—not all Israeli politicians wanted things to turn out this way. In 2009, with Adelson firmly in their sights, parliamentarians from across the spectrum united in a bid to disqualify foreigners from owning a controlling stake in an Israeli newspaper. 

Daniel Ben-Simon, a Labor Party supporter of the ultimately unsuccessful bid, noted at the time: “I don’t know what [Adelson’s] motives are, but he’s touching Israeli democracy’s holy of holies—he’s molding the face of Israeli society. 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.”

Nowadays, Adelson’s motives are plain. Back in America, following the failure of Gingrich to secure the GOP candidacy, he has thrown his weight behind Mitt Romney—the casino magnate’s promise to spend up to $100 million on the Republican candidate’s campaign will make him one of the largest sponsors in the funding stable. Is it any coincidence that Romney seems to have implied in his speech at the Republic National Convention that he is ready to go to war with Iran?

In Israel, meanwhile, according to the latest survey by the market research organisation TGI, Adelson’s pet project Israel Hayom has secured a 38.1% share of readership in the weekday daily market, compared to its closest rival, Yedioth Ahronoth, at 36.1% (Ma’ariv is at 11.1% and Ha’aretz at 7.2%). A big part of this success has to do with its placement of newsboys across the country, a result of its stated mission of “reaching every citizen and every venue” in the nation.

Another part of its mission, according to the “about” section of its English-language website, can be gleaned from the following: “Israel Hayom was founded [in July 2007] in the belief that the Israeli public deserves better, more balanced and more accurate journalism. Journalism which speaks—not shouts. Journalism of a different kind.”

Yet since inception, the newspaper has been criticised for being openly pro-Netanyahu. The latest critique came in July, when it deleted an insulting reference to the prime minister in its report of the letter left by Moshe Silman, who set fire to himself during a social protest in Tel Aviv in July. 

Israel Hayom displayed an image of the letter, but tellingly – and unlike other Israeli media – left out the two lines that referred to Netanyahu and his finance minister Yuval Steinitz as “scumbags”. Journalism of a different kind indeed. DM

Read more:

  • “Israeli newspapers ‘ruined’ by U.S. mogul’s free daily,” in the New York Daily News

Photo: Sheldon Adelson, Chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, is pictured after attending U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed


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