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Russian Oligarch Buys 20% Interest In Haaretz – OpEd

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Leonid Nevzlin with Bibi Netanyahu

Leonid Nevzlin, former business associate of imprisoned Russian oil tycoon Mikhael Khodorkovsky, who fled Russia for Israel when the latter was arrested by the authorities, has bought a 20% stake in Haaretz, investing $40-million in the company (amazing to think that Haaretz’s total valuation is only $200-million).  Nevzlin’s net worth is approximately $2-billion.  He will also join the board of directors.

This means that only 60% of the stock remains in the hands of the founding Schocken family, while another 20% was sold several years ago to a German publishing conglomerate.  An article in The Marker notes that the latter purchased 25% of the company six years ago when it was only worth $128-million, but says the total value of the company has not changed.  I’m wondering whether the apparent profit is due to currency fluctuation, because otherwise the claim the company hasn’t risen in value appears false.

Nevzlin, through his wife, runs an Israeli Zionist charity, Nadav, which supports pro-Israel/Zionist causes and awarded the pro-Israel media advocacy group, LATMA, its highest award last year at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum, which the tycoon chairs.  I wrote about this last year and queried a childhood friend of mine on the Tel Aviv University faculty about the seemliness of allowing the University (on whose campus Beit HaTfutsot sits) and Museum to be affiliated with an event honoring such an ideologically charged organization.  LATMA produced a video attacking the Turkish peace activists murdered on the Mavi Marmara, We Con the World, and also produced a racist video portraying a singing, dancing Barack Obama bragging how much he hates Jews.

This statement by Amos Schocken seems deliberately vague and even ominous considering Nevzlin’s decided political sympathies with right-wing Israeli politics:

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken said the new investment follows a year-long period of acquaintance and discussions on the goals of the company and its shareholders. In the new partnership, Haaretz strengthens itself by gaining an investor and director who is an experienced businessman – one with a specific interest and track record in Judaism and education.

Is that what Schocken calls LATMA?  An organization bolstering Judaism and education?  Schocken also claims that Nevzlin will not be involved in editorial content.  That’s about as ironclad a promise as Rupert Murdoch’s that he wouldn’t mess with the objectivity of the news content and reporting at the Wall Street Journal.  It changed radically almost the day he arrived.

I wonder which will it be?  Will Haaretz tone down Nevzlin’s propagandizing on behalf of right-wing Zionism or will Nevzlin infuse his politics into the pages of Haaretz (or both)?  It seems clear to me that Haaretz, which has slightly faded over the years as a beacon of Israeli liberal journalism, will continue a gradual shift to the right.  For example, its current managing editor, Dov Alfon, is a former officer in the IDF’s top-secret military intelligence Unit 8200 (I should add that this may indicate merely a coziness with the intelligence apparatus, rather than a right-wing political ideology).  Haaretz printing presses also publish Yisrael HaYom (aka Bibiton) on behalf of Bibi’s Sugar Daddy, Sheldon Adleson.  Returning to Nevzlin, his ascendancy only confirms an existing trend.

For the former Russian oil tycoon, wanted in Russia in connection with the prosecution of Khodorovsky, his purchase of a minority interest in Haaretz further burnishes his reputation inside the country and furthers the influence of his “charitable” work.  It will also give him a favorable platform in case his reputation needs further polishing should he face further legal difficulties.

In the Haaretz announcement you will find barely a whisper about Nevzlin’s notorious past.  You couldn’t get to be an oligarch without bashing a few heads and burying a few bodies.  Whatever the outrages of the Russian justice system (and they are many), Leonid Nevzlin has much to answer for both morally and legally.  Seems to me Haaretz has taken a calculated risk hopping into bed with someone having this type of reputation.

Oren Persico levels some appropriate criticism at the fawning coverage Haaretz reserved for Nevzlin in the past.  At his 50th birthday party, the paper reported that celebrants as distinguished as the IAF chief said:

You’re so different from those other oligarchs.

While former Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich, crowed:

Simply, we love ya.

He should, because when the Museum was about to collapse financially, Nevzlin stepped in and saved it with an infusion of his personal cash.

Does this sound like the kind of relationship that will allow Haaretz to cover fairly and judiciously matters related to Nevzlin, his affairs, and his legal tribulations?

One wonders what Haaretz will do with the capital infusion.  They’re talking about competing in the new digital world.  The truth is they produce an online product that is clunky, user-unfriendly, and technologically passe.  You can barely get video content to play.  The English version of the website produces a pale imitation of the Hebrew product.  They’ve got nowhere to go but up.  But can they get there?  Can they produce an attractive website?  Can they add ambitious young journalists to their roster who will produce cutting edge journalism along the lines of Uri Blau, Tom Segev, Amira Hass, and Gideon Levy?  Or will they follow the lead of tabloid journalism and beef up their entertainment/gossip/society offerings?

In discussing how Haaretz arrives at decisions over who it will partner with for investment purposes, Schocken makes an exceedingly odd statement about his German partner.  He says that unlike previous would-be partners, Haaretz chose the Germans because they had no “business obligation” [i.e. to make a profit], but rather an “obligation to the State and its success.”  I find it strange that any businessman would invest money in a venture out of a sense of moral obligation or guilt, or political allegiance, as Schocken implies is the case with the Germans.  Whatever happened to profit?  You mean Germans no longer care about profit when it comes to investments in Israel or anything else?

 

This article first appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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