As far as modern day boardroom stoushes go the Jerusalem Post is right up there. It could even be a Shakespeare play – “Former great masthead which has fallen upon foul times whose sale to new owners results in the two suing each other.”

The Jerusalem Post is the black sheep of Israeli newspapers. It is isolated on three counts – the other papers are based in Tel Aviv, the other newspapers are in Hebrew and it has a right wing stance.

Part of the Hollinger stable it had to be sold when the Conrad Black imbroglio emerged but since then things have gone from bad to worse.

How the mighty have fallen…

The Palestine Post was founded in 1932 by Gershon Agron. It changed its name to the Jerusalem Post in 1953.

Traditionally the paper was slightly liberal or left of centre and supported the Israeli Labor Party until 1989 when it was purchased by Hollinger at which point the paper became supportive of the Likud. A number of journalists resigned from the Post after Black’s takeover and founded the centrist weekly Jerusalem Report. Currently, the Jerusalem Post is viewed as having a moderate right of center slant on news coverage, although left-wing columns are often featured on the editorial pages.

In November Hollinger sold the paper for US$13.2 million to Mirkaei Tikshoret Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based publisher of Israeli newspapers. CanWest Global Communications, Canada’s biggest media cabal, agreed to take a 50 percent stake from MTL.

CanWest is well known in Australia and needs no introduction. The Winnipeg-based CanWest had somewhat of a connection to the Post already after acquiring most of Hollinger’s major Canadian newspapers in 2000 for US$1.8 billion.

Mirkaei Tikshoret Ltd. is a Tel Aviv-based privately held media group whose holdings include television stations, radio stations and broadcasting rights, daily newspapers in Russian and weekly and monthly magazines in both Hebrew and Russian.

But less than two months after the fanfare over the sale, the two new owners have fallen out. Control at the paper at this stage is in the hands of Eli Azur, MTL president and CEO.

The two have failed to see eye-to-eye over policy and other issues. Sources close to the dispute said that Azur opposed the right-wing viewpoint that CanWest and its president and CEO, Leonard Asper, are advocating. Azur feels this is a bad strategic move, for both financial and editorial reasons.

But what is at the heart of the dispute isn’t newspaper but real estate. The paper’s current premises are a 2.3 acre plot in Jerusalem which Azur could get up to US$7 million dollars. The paper would then be moved to another location. The Canadians are not so sure about this.

They finally lost patience and started an arbitration process saying that Mirkaei Tikshoret had breached the joint purchase agreement. The New York Supreme Court will get the final say.

“It is regrettable that MTL has chosen not to honor the terms of its agreements with CanWest,” Asper said in a statement. “We are confident that in due course we will be awarded our ownership interest and majority position on the board of The Jerusalem Post, in accordance with these agreements.”

All this doesn’t make for great morale at the paper. As it is, the paper is already operating on a shoestring budget.

In what is a sign of the times the most successful aspect of the paper is its internet site which is doing gangbusters.

One of the first papers in the world to go online after doing so in 1995. They get over a million hits a month as people from all around the world look to as one of their primary news sources regarding Israel.

Unfortunately for the paper and its ailing circulation, hardly anyone in Israel does the same.