Adelson takes another chunk of Israeli media
This week, Ma’ariv, once the most popular newspaper in Israel, got its fifth owner in less than four years when it was bought by Jerusalem Post owner Eli Azur for NIS 4 million (£700,000).
Mr Azur was taking advantage of a fire-sale of the media assets of UK-born businessman Shlomo Ben Zvi, whose firm owed NIS 3.5 million (£600,000) to creditors and employees.
While the sale may, or may not, breathe new life into the venerable but ailing daily, the more significant development was the simultaneous sale of two of Mr Ben Zvi’s other titles, the weekly Makor Rishon and the website NRG — which previously served Ma’ariv — to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson for NIS 17 million (£3m).
Mr Adelson, whose fortune is estimated at $38.1 bn, is a unique player in the Israeli media market. Seven years ago he founded Yisrael Ha’Yom, a tabloid daily that quickly became the most widely-read paper in the country. The freesheet has never turned a profit — it is kept afloat by regular injections of Adelson’s cash — and has one objective: supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies. Mr Adelson needs the paper because, unlike in the US where he has donated over $100m to Republican candidates, Israeli laws prohibit large donations.
Yisrael Ha’Yom could have its appeal blunted if a new law — now under discussion — forces it to charge readers.
Meanwhile, Mr Adelson’s purchase of Makor Rishon, a weekly popular among modern Orthodox right-wingers and settlers, spreads his influence to another crucial section of the Israeli electorate.
Makor Rishon has criticised Mr Netanyahu from the right, but if Mr Adelson’s record is anything to go by, the small but influential weekly will have to toe a more pro-Bibi line in future. The sale of Ma’ariv to the Jerusalem Post group hopefully ensures that along with Ha’aretz and Yediot Ahronot, Israel will still have at least three main Hebrew papers independent of political control, but the consolidation of media assets in the Netanyahu-supporting tycoon’s hands will provide extra impetus for legislation against freesheets.