The headline above the fold of Israel Hayom on Wednesday, July 26, was not much different from disappointed right-leaning newspapers across Israel: “Removal of Metal Detectors: Demonstration of Netanyahu’s Helplessness.” The Hebrew term they used for helplessness, “khosser-onim,” also includes a sexual undertone, meaning impotence. But even in its more insulting form, you couldn’t tell it apart from dozens of condemnations on the right of what 77% of Israelis, according to a Channel 2 poll said was Bibi’s capitulation.
What made the headline practically historical was the fact that it was published above the fold of Israel Hayom, a freebie daily established by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in 2007 with the apparent purpose of being a tool for propelling one Benjamin Netanyahu to electoral victory. So much so, that the common nickname for the paper has been “Bibiton,” a combination of “Bibi” with “iton,” the Hebrew word for newspaper.
Bibi Netanyahu was the fair haired boy of Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, who enjoyed the enviable position of the second-longest serving Israeli PM’s most favorite billionaires. How much did they love him? In 2016, Ha’aretz investigation showed that from 2007 to 2014 the Israel Hayom lost about $190 million. They paid 25 cents for every copy they printed, after revenues from advertising.
But Sheldon wasn’t in it for the money, he could stand to lose double that – which is about what he lost on the 2012 Republican presidential election. Sheldon was in it for his love for Bibi – and it worked. According to a TGI survey published in 2016, Israel Hayom enjoyed a 39.7% weekday readership exposure, compared with the former behemoth di tutti behemoths, Yedioth Ahronoth, which was cut down to 34.9%.
So what happened? Noni Moses happened. According to a story that began with a January, 2017 police investigation of corruption surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu, it turned out that Bibi had been more than ungrateful to his best patrons ever. A tape of a conversation between Netanyahu and media tycoon Arnon “Noni” Mozes, the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, exposed the politician and the publisher negotiating a deal that would benefit both of them – at the expense of uncle Sheldon and aunt Miriam.
Basically, Bibi would get Israeli Hayom to kill its weekend edition—its only moneymaker, and in exchange Yedioth would go easy on him in their reports. Considering the four to six separate corruption investigations pending against Bibi and or his circle of friends and associates, it was a good deal to get friendly coverage from close to 80% of Israel’s newspapers. Sure, Ha’aretz would still attack him every day, but only 3.9% of Israelis read Ha’aretz, and they already despise the prime minister.
Needless to say, this show of ingratitude did not go over well with the Adelsons, who have since showed up happily to testify before the special crimes unit Lahav 433 which is investigating their former fair-haired boy. And Wednesday morning, the golem turned on its ward.
The problem did not start with Israel’s feeble removal of metal detectors from the gates to the Temple Mount compound,” wrote Mati Tuchfeld above the fold in Israel Hayom. “The problem started days earlier, with the ill-advised installation of the metal detectors in the first place. The Israeli response to the July 14 terrorist attack at the Temple Mount, in which two Israeli police officers were murdered, was so hasty and confused that there was never any doubt that even the slightest pushback from the Arabs and the Waqf would lead to Israeli capitulation in the end. After all, ever since 1967, Israel’s conduct regarding the Temple Mount has been like that of a leaf in the wind.”
“Benjamin Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to display utter Israeli helplessness in the face of powerful Islamic groups that control the holy site with an iron fist,” Tuchfeld continued, citing previous prime ministers who had been paralyzed by “feeble threats from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia” over access to the Temple Mount. “But unlike the acts of previous prime ministers, the move Netanyahu led this week went directly against his own political base.”
And uncle Sheldon and aunt Miriam.