JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli lawmakers in a preliminary vote approved a bill that would make free distribution of a major newspaper illegal.
The bill’s chief target is Israel Hayom, a free Israeli newspaper owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The bill passed its first reading by a vote of 43 to 23.
Sponsored by Labor party lawmaker Eitan Cabel, the bill will now be sent to a Knesset committee to be revised for its second and third Knesset plenum votes.
While the bill targets all newspapers that are distributed for free, it has been clear its intent is to force the Adelson-owned newspaper, which is considered to be a mouthpiece for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to charge customers. Founded in 2007, Israel Hayom is the only major free Israeli paper and recently became Israel’s most-read. The bill would mandate that Israel’s least-expensive major paper charge no less than 70 percent the price of its next-most-expensive competitor.
“This is a bill in favor of pluralism and multiple opinions,” Cabel told the lawmakers. “It is a battle so that, in a few years, we do not become a country with only one newspaper. Sheldon Adelson wants to bury a market that is fighting for its life.
“Israel Hayom does not exist because of its success as a newspaper but because of the hundreds of millions in gambling funds that are funneled to it from overseas. Does anyone in this room honestly think that this is how a model for a normal newspaper looks? That this is how fair competition looks?”
Opponents of the bill, however, say it is a violation of democratic rights.
“What is this? Since when do parliaments close newspapers? Are we Bolsheviks?” asked Likud party lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, who has been the object of significant criticism in the newspaper.
CORRECTION: This brief has been changed from the version that appeared Friday to reflect that the bill would not shut down Israel Hayom but would force it to charge a price for the paper. The headline has been reworked to reflect the change.