Israel’s Maariv daily was absent from newsstands on Wednesday for the first time since its foundation in 1948, as workers began an open-ended strike over pay and conditions.
Hagai Matar, Maariv branch journalists’ union chairman, said the strike was likely to continue into Thursday.
“At this time the website is still closed down, no new work is being done,” he told Israeli army radio on Wednesday afternoon.
He said the strike was due to the paper’s new proprietors’ failure to implement an agreement due to take effect Wednesday on wages and conditions.
It was also motivated by continuing uncertainty over how many staff would keep their jobs under the paper’s new religious rightwing publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi, he said.
“Maariv’s employees want to know how many of them will be hired and what the newspaper’s structure will be,” said a statement by the strikers reported by other local media.
“I can’t remember a day without Maariv, there has never been such a thing,” Tkuma Carlebach, daughter of the paper’s founder, told the radio.
A court approved the sale of the daily and its printing works to Ben-Zvi on October 23 on the basis of the agreement with the workers.
Unions fear that about 1,600 of Maariv’s 2,000 employees will lose their jobs under the new ownership.
Prior to the agreement, journalists had threatened to go on strike over the deal, with many also concerned about the future of its editorial line after its sale to Ben-Zvi, a West Bank settler who is close to Israel’s nationalist, religious right.
They feared the newspaper, currently considered centre-right, could become increasingly conservative under Ben-Zvi’s ownership.
A number of Israeli dailies have folded in recent years as media ownership grows increasingly concentrated, with players like the top-selling Yediot Aharonot and the free-distribution Israel Hayom crowding out smaller titles.
Leftwing Haaretz is also currently engaged in cost-cutting and is reportedly in talks to sell its printing press to Yisrael Hayom, which is owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor and close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Between 1950 and 1960, Maariv was the largest Israeli daily, with circulation of nearly 180,000.