Is Bibi on the Outs With Adelson?
In its current issue, Moment published “Playing to Win,” which explores how philanthropist/casino owner/media mogul Sheldon Adelson has used his newspapers in Israel and Nevada to try to sway public opinion in favor of his political views and business interests. The story, in part, focused on Adelson’s success in using Israel Hayom to reelect and support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the criminal probe into whether Netanyahu illegally offered to use his influence with Adelson as part of a secret deal with Yediot Aharanot publisher Arnon Mozes.
In the days since the story ran, new developments have come at a rapid pace, including a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court forcing Netanyahu to release the dates of his phone conversations with Adelson and Amos Regev, the former editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom. In addition, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow turned state’s witness in this and another investigation into Netanyahu. These developments have fed speculation as to whether the prime minister’s legal problems could spell the end of his hold on power.
“The wily, clever and politically astute Benjamin Netanyahu has an uncanny ability for clinging to power, and possibly only a court indictment will be able to bring him down if he is not able to rally other members of his coalition government behind him,” says Richard Gross, former foreign editor of The Washington Times who served as the UPI bureau chief in Jerusalem from 1977 to 198o. Gross says that as of now, however, the Likud Party still seems to support Netanyahu, and even if the prime minister was indicted, Israeli law would permit him to continue to serve.
Still there are stirrings in the wings from other Israeli politicians who perceive that this is an opportunity to unseat Israel’s longest serving prime minister. These include not just Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party and the Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister, but also Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. “They ache to don the mantle of prime minister—fellow right-wing politicians who would get the support of Netanyahu’s backers, the settler movement, the Orthodox and conservative Russian immigrants,” says Gross. “The public generally may be fed up with Netanyahu and the repeated scandals surrounding him and his wife, Sara. New elections could end Netanyahu’s reign.”
Adelson, as reported in the Moment story, is irritated that the prime minister engaged in discussions with Yediot Aharonot’s Mozes. The tensions between the two men, once close friends, are continuing to play out on the pages of Israel Hayom. “One thing is clear: the paper (has) deviated from its traditional line of defending Netanyahu on whatever he was doing, as was clear when the paper sharply criticized him in a very critical commentary on the top of its front page regarding the removal of metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount,” says Israeli media analyst Rafi Mann. “But the change is limited: When the police announced that Netanyahu was suspected of ‘fraud and bribes,’ those words appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers—except for Israel Hayom.”
On some days, the paper, Mann adds, now reads more like a newspaper of the right, rather than “Bibi’s newspaper.” “And as a right-wing newspaper, Israel Hayom continues to defend the prime minister from the ‘left,’ which [it says] is trying to topple him.” This change is attributed in part to the ascent of new editor Boaz Bismuth, the youthful but long-time Israel Hayom staffer who took the reigns in April after Regev was fired. Its been reported that Bismuth, who covered the Donald Trump campaign and the new American president’s first few months in office, already had to his credit a one-on-one interview with Trump, has been charged with tightening Israel Hayom coverage and stemming financial losses. It’s estimated that Adelson has poured $200 million into Israel Hayom since it was founded in 2007. Bismuth did not respond to requests for comment.