Thursday, March 20, 2014
The Knesset Bolshies Crusade against a Free Press
In its early decades of existence, public policy in Israel was governed by near-totalitarian interference by the government in every micro-decision of the lives of Israelis. The government told Israelis where to live, what to eat, what to buy, where to work, and how to live. While democratically elected, the government sought to impose a Bolshevik style command and control system over the economy.
Decades of liberalization later, the instinct of Israeli politicians, even those supposedly from parties devoted to “free market” ideas, still reverts with kneejerk regularity to Bolshevik regulation and interference. Last year the Knesset passed a law setting minimum prices for books and prohibiting discounts. Every politician spouting “ideas” for “solving” the housing problems of Israel invariably ends up advocating rent controls and price controls. But it would be hard to find anything as absurd and anti-democratic as the new Knesset initiative to prohibit distribution of free newspapers.
The new proposal for media bolshevism is the brainchild of six Knesset Members from six Knesset factions, including the supposed free-market conservative party of Naftali Bennett and the supposed Rightwing party of Avigdor Lieberman. The bill before the Knesset is designed as an attack against the Israel Hayom daily newspaper, which has become the Israeli paper with the greatest circulation. The bill wants to prohibit distribution of free newspapers.
Well sort of. It is really just an attack against one newspaper. Other newspapers in Israel are handed out free and are not the target. The Jerusalem Post has a freebie it distributes in Hebrew. It would be exempt from the law because it does not have a Friday edition. Why having a Friday edition makes a newspaper censorable is something not explained by the Knesset bolshies. Yediot Ahronot has a freebie edition of its own. Television news and radio news is free. And freebie newspapers are distributed in every country in Europe and every city in the US.
The nominal initiator of the bill is Eitan Cabel, an anti-democratic backbencher from the Labor Party. Years ago Cabel was behind the Bolshevik campaign by the Labor Party to shut down the Arutz 7 radio station (which later became a web site). Cabel had no problem with the ultra-leftist “pirate radio station” run by Abbie Nathan, but insisted that the Rightwingers of Arutz 7 should be prevented from exercising their freedom of speech. Cabel was also a central figure in the McCarthyist crusade of the Israeli Left to blame the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on the exercise of freedom of speech by non-leftists. He fought against the release from prison of Yigal Amir’s girlfriend, Margalit Har-Sheffi, jailed for not preventing Amir from committing his crime. Cabel also did not prevent Amir from committing his crime but was not jailed for this.
Yediot Ahronot is evidently behind the censorship bill. Its position as the leading newspaper in Israel based on market share was turned on its head by Israel Hayom. Moreover, both Yediot and Haaretz are far-leftist newspapers, while Israel Hayom is pluralistic but predominantly right-leaning. That of course is all the more reason why a Knesset attempt at shutting it down should be resisted as anti-democratic. Instead we see this gaggle of politicians, including from “Rightwing” parties, joining the censorship campaign. If Bennett’s party and Lieberman’s party go ahead and support this bill, they will join the list of parties for whom no believer in democracy can vote in the next election.