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How U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson is buying up Israel’s media

Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson in a 2013 file photo. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

JERUSALEM — Las Vegas casino magnate and GOP super donor Sheldon Adelson is gambling on a new venture. On Wednesday, after the Israeli antitrust authority approved his purchase of two more news outlets, the Jewish American billionaire upped his ante in the country’s media market.

Adelson already owns one of the four mainstream newspapers here, a free daily tabloid called Israel Hayom (Israel Today). He started that newspaper in 2007 and helped it grow to have the largest circulation in the country.

With his latest purchases, Adelson will now also control the main religious daily, Makor Rishon, which caters to Israel’s Zionist religious right, and NRG, the news Web site of the Maariv newspaper, which has faced a multitude of financial woes in the past few years.

While the antitrust authority decided that Adelson’s acquisitions are not crossing any competitive red lines, media watchdogs (and not a few political pundits) worry about Adelson's growing influence. Adelson is an avid supporter and long-time friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“As a very strong backer of Prime Minister Netanyahu – not that there's anything wrong with it – Adelson owns a paper that is rarely, if ever, critical of the PM,” wrote Shmeul Rosner, an Israeli commentator, in Jewish Journal. “He now owns two papers, and one might suspect that now two papers will never be critical of Netanyahu.”

Israel’s news media are lively, but venues are not infinite, with four main national newspapers, three television news broadcasters and a handful of radio and news Web sites vying to inform and sway public opinion in a country known for its rough-and-tumble politics.

An investigative report by Channel 10 aired last year claimed that Adelson’s newspaper Israel Hayom was spinning the news to show Netanyahu in a more positive light. The newspaper’s editor, Amos Regev, dismissed the report, saying,  “This so-called evidence doesn't prove anything other than the routine workings of a news organization."

Adelson’s new ventures are seen as a good thing for Netanyahu. Israel’s media is often very critical of Netanyahu —  and loves engaging in what the Prime Minister calls “psychobabble” about his motives. Though he makes plenty of public pronouncements, Netanyahu rarely grants on-the-record interviews or does not host regular news conferences. Adelson's purchase might also be a plus for Netanyahu's wife, Sara, who regularly faces media scrutiny for what critics call her imperial lifestyle (she recently came under fire for yelling at a staffer for buying bags of milk instead of a proper carton).

Adelson has played a big role in GOP politics and is vocal about his support for Israel. In 2012, he spent millions backing the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, not only in a bid to beat President Obama but also to ensure strengthened support for Israel in domestic U.S. politics.

And, more recently, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) apologized to Adelson after referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories” in a speech at the spring leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an event Adelson hosted at his Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Ruth Eglash is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.



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