Jerusalem: Israel`s Parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of a draft bill which would ban the free distribution of Israel HaYom, a freesheet which solidly backs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A preliminary reading of the bill was passed by 43 in favour to 23 against with nine abstentions.
Israel HaYom (Hebrew for "Israel Today") was founded in 2007 by the rightwing US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest men in the world. Its establishment had one clear aim: to support Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, and ensure his election as premier in 2009.
It quickly became the most widely distributed newspaper in Israel and its blanket support for Netanyahu earned it the moniker "Bibiton" - a play on the premier`s nickname, Bibi, and the Hebrew word for newspaper.
Labour MP Eitan Cabel, who tabled the bill, said the aim was to save the written press in Israel, which has suffered as a result of Israel HaYom`s emergence, dismissing the freesheet as having "created a personality cult worthy of North Korea".
The explanatory notes for the bill say that a newspaper cannot be freely distributed for more than six months if it is among the country`s top four dailies and its distribution is nationwide.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close associate of Netanyahu, said any bill seeking to essentially shut down a newspaper was "anti-democratic".
Before passing into law, the bill must go to the Knesset house committee which is presided over by Yariv Levin, an MP from Netanyahu`s ruling Likud party. It must then pass three more readings in parliament.
Israel HaYom has cornered a large part of the advertising market, contributing to a crisis among the remaining national dailies.