Dershowitz: The case for Adelson (with Sharansky and Foxman)
Sheldon Adelson, an American billionaire casino tycoon, has long been trading money for political influence in the Israeli sphere. He’s the underwriter of the Shalem Center, for example, Israel’s neoconservative nexus. It numbers among its alumni many of the senior staffers at the current Prime Minister’s Office, including Ron Dermer, a leader of the ongoing campaign to suppress Israeli human rights groups, and Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who recently boycotted the J Street conference and continues in his attempts to de-legitimize the the organization.
In 2007, Adelson went a step further and established a newspaper, Israel Hayom. Obviously not for profit, the new venture was quickly dubbed the “Bibiton”, Hebrew for “Netanyahu paper”. On December 4 2009, Coteret quoted Israel prize laureate Nahum Barnea of Yediot, who, in a recent Globes interview, bluntly warned that Adelson was a clear and present danger to Israeli democracy. On December 10 2009, we reported on a new bi-partisan Knesset bill aimed at outlawing foreign ownership of Israeli newspapers, obviously aimed at Adelson and Israel Hayom.
The proposed legislation has put Adelson on the defensive. On December 17 2009 he gave an interview to the JTA’s Jacob Berkman (The Funderamentalist), in which, ironically, he argued that Israel Hayom was “fair and balanced.” The public war of words has escalated as Maariv, which Haaretz reports was intimately involved in drafting the bill, has been running op-ed pieces decrying the threat to democracy posed by Israel Hayom on a near daily basis.
On Friday (December 25 2009) Israel Hayom threw a lavish 700 guest bash in Tel-Aviv to celebrate the launch of its weekend edition. Adelson used the podium to promise he would not surrender and to reiterate the “fair and balanced” message. This morning’s (December 27 2009) edition of the paper devotes half of a page to the speech. The rest of the page is devoted to criticism of the new bill by three high-profile advocates of Israel: Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency; Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); and Alan M. Dershowitz (full text after the cut).
As much as I dread Adelson’s undue influence on the Israeli public sphere, I oppose the new bill. As Noam Sheizaf points out, the dangers this type of legislation poses to the remains of Israeli democracy far outweigh Israel Hayom’s damage. The neoconservative rush to Adelson’s defense, however, is worthy of scrutiny because of the insight it provides into their unique brand of influence peddling, rife with hypocrisy and factual omission.
Sharansky, who indignantly states that “this act does not add dignity to societies that pass such laws,” conveniently neglects to disclose that he is materially beholden to Adelson. He found a comfortable home at the Shalem Center to pass the time between his resignation from the Knesset in 2006 to his controversial appointment to the Jewish Agency position in 2009. He was appointed to head the Center’s “new strategic studies program,” soon after christened The Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies after the billionaire’s foundation made $4.5 million donation.
Dershowitz has no overt material links to Adelson, at least not any that I could find. His statement, however, is a cynical classic. Dershowitz is incensed, decrying the bill as “an unconstitutional act.” If he was a consistent and vocal critic of Israeli domestic legislation one would be inclined this latest from the Harvard legal scholar. But the man who opens his bio with “one of [the United State's] ‘most distinguished defenders of individual rights,'” has been silent on Israel’s latest constitutional civil rights crisis and a host of other threats to Israeli democracy. The ease in which Dershowitz chooses to tether his reputation to financial interests, just because they share his political views, is testament to how pro-Israeli advocacy has warped the intellectual standards of some Jewish-Americans.
The Jewish Agency chairman and former prisoner of Zion: “The bill they are trying to get through the Knesset is designed against a single person only, Sheldon Adelson, which is an outrage”; American lawyer Alan Dershowitz: “This is an unconstitutional law that will give Israel a bad name”; Abe Foxman: “Israel needs aid not just from governments, but also from the world Jewry”
Yuri Yalon and Boaz Bismut, Israel Hayom, December 27 2009
“The bill is redundant at best, and impairs on individual civil rights in the worst case,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, who strongly opposes the bill that is meant to prevent foreign ownership of an Israeli newspaper.
“As a society, we are interested in greater competition in the media, but once people are prevented from investing in them, worldviews are restricted,” said Sharansky, who served many years as a prisoner of Zion under the Soviet regime and suffered gag attempts first hand. “There must not be a media monopoly, but as many views as possible should be expressed,” he added. “We should accept the fact that newspapers may be ideologically-motivated, just like Haaretz holds one set of views and Makor Rishon, has another.”
Sharansky, who formerly served as deputy prime minister and minister of industry and trade, expressed his displeasure with the fact that this bill aims merely at harming a certain person. “The bill was named the ‘Adelson Act’ from day one, and it is an outrage that they are trying to pass a law against a certain person,” he said. “You do not pass laws to help or harm a person who engages in a competition with others, but to protect civil rights.
“It is a shame that such bills are even tabled,” he said in conclusion. “I would vote against this act, which does not add dignity to societies that pass such laws.”
“An unconstitutional act”
Prof. Alan Dershowitz, the renowned American legal expert, made similar remarks. The Harvard law professor doubted it is even legal. “I am not sure that this bill is constitutional,” Dershowitz said, “and even if the Knesset should pass it, such an act will suffer legal problems later on.”
“The arguments that the bill initiators have made do not make sense. It will not work,” Dershowitz added. “In this age of Internet, the ban that the bill initiators wish to impose is irrelevant. If I, who live in the United States, decided to establish an Israeli Internet site, it would have had the same impact as a newspaper, and the law could do nothing against it,” he said, noting that “endorsing that bill retroactively is absurd. It attests to a defensive mentality.”
According to Dershowitz, the bill “also gives Israel a bad name” because it harms market competition. “It is just like restricting the importation of goods. It is a very bad idea.”
“Do not harm US Jews”
Abe Foxman, chairman of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, the leading US organization that fights anti-Semitism, reacted to this bill and addressed the ties between Israel and the Diaspora Jews, which shall not be severed. “Why are foreign funds kosher when they are invested in business or as donations, but investing in and owning a newspaper is illegitimate?” Foxman wondered, adding that he fears this might harm the relations. “Israel is a state that still needs aid not just from governments, but also from the world Jewry,” he said.