Israeli lawmakers have voted for a bill intended to prevent the free distribution of Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper — a media outlet that is considered to be a virtual mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Adelson, the controversial founder and owner of the newspaper, made headlines last week when he said: “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?” That comment triggered a new round of criticism on Adelson’s involvement in Israeli politics, and his role as Netanyahu’s de facto media patron.
“Mr Adelson is not here,” said opposition Labor party lawmaker Eitan Cabel said while celebrating the bill’s advancement. “However, his spirit is here in this plenary.”
But it wasn’t only Netanyahu’s political enemies who voted for a measure that — if it clears hurdles to final passage — could effectively silence Adelson.
Many members of his ruling coalition also voted for the measure. That was a sure sign of the increasing fragility of the government, especially coming just days after environment minister Amir Peretz quit in a huff over the budget.
So what allowed the bill to pass even though it takes aim at a prominent and highly public ally of Netanyahu?
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation usually decides the government position on each bill — and orders all governing coalition members to vote accordingly.
But this time, it took the step of granting ministers the freedom to vote as they please.
The results were eye-popping — and worrisome for Netanyahu.
The vote in favor of the bill was 43-23. Ten members of coalition party Yesh Atid voted in favor as did 12 out of 14 parliament members of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Now, the bill will move on to a Knesset committee. If the bill eventually passes, it would be more than a black eye for Netanyahu. Some insiders in his Likud Party say it could lead to the collapse of the coalition because of the infighting that it could spark.