The founder of Lesterland in Israel
Israel’s Electoral laws prevented Sheldon Adelson from acquiring the same political influence here that money can buy in America, so he founded ‘Israel Hayom’ • Adelson’s legacy
By Shahar Ben-Meir*
With the announcement of the death of Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who had a profound influence on politics in Israel and the United States, the expected and necessary discourse regarding the deceased’s legacy has begun. I did not know Adelson personally, but his name appeared in a large number of petitions I had submitted over the years to various levels of the justice system. My contention that Israel Hayom is a propaganda tool under the guise of a newspaper, was rejected by all of them.
Following the announcement of his death, the sycophants closest to Adelson’s wallet, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “journalist” Boaz Bismuth [Israel Hayom’s editor in chief], mentioned on Twitter each in his own way that he was a major contributor to the State of Israel. Well, for the sake of his legacy, I would like to write about Adelson’s financial contributions, in Israel and the United States, and how these have affected the very existence of democracy and a free press.
Adelson is known as a major donor, possibly the largest in recent years, to the Republican Party in the United States. Through these hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, he has gained a great deal of influence over government policies, especially during President Trump’s administration. Adelson may not have invented the American system, which allows big money to in effect to buy power. What may be considered corruption in Israel is considered part of the “system” in the United States.
Those who have a place of honour in enabling the increasing corruption of politics in the United States through big money are the conservative justices of the Supreme Court, who ruled in the infamous “Citizens United” judgment that corporations can donate unlimited funds for political purposes, that the scope of donations cannot be limited, including the identity of the donors and their affiliation to a political party.
What did this decision, which allowed for huge financial contributions like those of Adelson, do to politics in the United States? This question was answered brilliantly by the constitutional law expert Lawrence Lessig, in an article illustrating the impact of big money on corruption in politics. In his article, Lessig suggests that we understand that, contrary to the common perception that the United States has a single election in which all eligible citizens go to the polls and vote for their preferred candidate, there are actually two separate types of elections.
Lessig wants us to imagine that all the people who donate the big money to politics in the United States are called Lester, and they constitute a state called Lesterland. Lesterland comprises less than half a per cent of all eligible voters, but the members of Lesterand are the ones who decide which of their own candidates will be eligible to run for election in the entire country. Only a candidate who has the support and financial backing of members of Lesterland will be eligible to advance to the next stage of the competition for the vote of the citizens of the United States.
In this way, the Lesterland election, ie the choice of people like Adelson as to which candidate to support, is the most important election. Only after people like Adelson and his friends decide among themselves who to support, do they allow the rest of the citizens to choose between the candidates they, with their deep pockets, have allowed to run in the general election. If so, that was Adelson’s significant contribution to the United States. Being a significant and influential part of the profound corruption of American politics.
In Israel, there is no ruling similar to Citizens United, but “laws”, as we know, are for the weak. Thus, in 2007, Adelson set up a free propaganda bulletin at his expense which masqueraded it as a newspaper called Israel Hayom. From its inception to the present day, its purpose has been to support the political career of one man — Benjamin Netanyahu. Thousands of words have been written, some on this site, about the fact that Israel Hayom does not uphold the basic principles of journalism and is not really a newspaper but a propaganda tool, and this is already a known fact that “needs no further evidence.” But the bottom line is that Adelson’s wishes in establishing Israel Hayom have come true.
Only recently media researchers [Guy] Grossman, [Yotam] Margalit and [Tamar] Mitts published an article arguing, through statistical analysis of voting trends, that Israel Hayom has made a significant contribution to the increase in the number of Netanyahu and Likud seats.
In the first case (in a series of many that I lost) regarding a petition in which I claimed that Israel Hayom is election propaganda and not a newspaper, Judge Joubran, who then served as chair of the Central Election Committee, gave me some concessions: As part of the petition, the Attorney General claimed that the CED chair has no authority to determine that an entire newspaper can be considered propaganda. Judge Joubran did not accept this position, ruling that an entire newspaper can in fact be declared to be propaganda if three conditions are met: the content is mostly propaganda, there is an organisational connection between the candidate and the newspaper, and the newspaper has no economic model.
At that time (early 2015) I could not prove the last two elements. Since then, the dates and frequency of talks between Netanyahu and the then editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom (Amos Regev) have been revealed, Adelson’s testimony to the police was revealed in “Case 2000” and information has been leaked (without sufficient evidence) about Adelson’s contribution to the paper (about NIS 100 million annually), which indicates a lack of any economic model.
It is possible that today, in light of this new evidence, it would be possible to bring about the classification of the newspaper as a propaganda tool. I’m quite pessimistic about it, but that’s not why we are gathered here today. The bottom line that emerges from all of the above is that Adelson “bought,” and at a relatively low price of his personal wealth, a tremendous ability to influence the political sphere and the media.
There would be a fair bit of truth to the assertion that Yedioth Ahronoth is also a newspaper with a range of inherent flaws, and there is also “case 2000” which involves the publisher and the prime minister suspected of crimes, to prove this. But the entry of the so- called competitor, Israel Hayom to the field, not only did not improve the situation but significantly worsened it. Because in the case of Israel Hayom, producing a newspaper is not the goal but only the means of obtaining political influence for the horse that the newspaper is backing. When today we see propagandists par excellence such as Yaakov Bardugo, Shimon Riklin, Yinon Magal and the like considered as journalists -on the basis of the air or screen time they are given- this is the rotten fruit that grew on the tree called Israel Hayom.
As mentioned, I did not know Adelson personally. I am willing to accept that he also did good and worthy deeds in his life. To me, as a citizen of a democracy, the legacy he leaves behind, in the United States and here too, is that of a man who donated his money to destroy democracy and freedom of the press. So for me, this is how he should be remembered.
Translated by Yoni Molad for Middle East News Service edited by Sol Salbe, Melbourne, Australia
Hebrew Original: https://www.the7eye.org.il/401876