Pas de trêve pour Bibi.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In his first public statement against the formation of the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum on Monday that one of his goals in the months ahead was to “rehabilitate the [existing] Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA),” and vowed to embark on the effort “with financial responsibility.”
IBA staffers said they felt insulted by the word “rehabilitate,” a term that is used for prison inmates. Channel 1 anchor Geula Even, who is married to former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, tweeted, “What a wonderful country! I can receive both maternity leave and rehabilitation. I feel so lucky.”
Speaking to the plenum after the prime minister, opposition leader Isaac Herzog accused Netanyahu of wanting to paralyze the Israeli media and of “fighting with every journalist and every broadcast studio.”
President Reuven Rivlin also criticized Netanyahu in his speech to the Knesset, warning of those who want the media to be a “shofar of commissars,” and calling for those who oppose public broadcasting to admit it.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) defiantly boycotted the prime minister’s speech, and struck back at Netanyahu for his plan to cancel the formation of the IBC and maintain the IBA. In his first public comments on the plan, Kahlon told the Knesset Finance Committee that he would consider accepting it under two difficult conditions: Netanyahu must ensure strong public broadcasting, and find a budget for it without cutting from government ministries.
“Behind the numbers, there are people who could lose their jobs,” Kahlon said. “We don’t like playing with people. Personally, knowing where I came from, I cannot throw out millions. I know the value of a shekel and what it means to people, let alone hundreds of millions. My job is to watch over the public coffers.”
Kahlon vowed to use his veto power over expenditures higher than NIS 10 million that is guaranteed in the coalition agreement. He said canceling the IBC would cost hundreds of millions in shekels, and an additional NIS 1.7 billion in property.
“It is my prerogative to maintain our money and I will not give up, even if I have to use my veto,” Kahlon said. “I am not avoiding conflict. I am not hiding. I came to my ministry to solve problems.”
Sources close to Netanyahu said the prime minister was furious at Kahlon’s behavior. They warned that the prime minister would block Kahlon’s pet project of taxing owners of three or more apartments if he blocks the IBC cancellation plan.
Channel 2 quoted Kahlon telling confidants that he had to stand up to Netanyahu on the issue or risk his entire agenda being blocked. Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said in response to Kahlon that a decision by the cabinet obligates the entire coalition, so Kahlon would not be able to use his veto. Bitan said closing the IBC would save money, not lose money, and that Kahlon was only mentioning a cut in ministries in an effort to draft opposition to the plan in the cabinet.
“There is no way the plan would lose money,” Bitan said. “The Finance Ministry is twisting the numbers to advance a political agenda.”
Bitan said the IBC’s journalists were leftists and anti-Likud, and intended to use the new corporation to advance their political agenda.
In meetings of their factions in the Knesset on Monday afternoon, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced he would support closing the IBC, and Shas chairman Arye Deri said his faction would vote against it.
“We think the public needs strong, independent public broadcasting that will give a stage to all sectors of the population, and we think the IBC will do that,” Deri told his faction.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett in an address to students Monday at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Academic College announced that his faction opposed closing the IBC.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid mocked Netanyahu for focusing on public broadcasting and not on more serious issues.
“The Knesset returned for a new session, yet no one sees this as a holiday,” Lapid told his faction. “Why is the public ashamed of the Knesset? Because instead of helping the public, the politicians are helping themselves with empty bills and pushing the press to let them say how much they hate the press.”