Analysis: Publicly broadcasting weakness before a fight?

Eight years later, just ahead of March 31, Netanyahu made a deal preventing the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation from being able to control its news division.

April 3, 2017 03:36
2 minute read.
PM Netanyahu

PM Netanyahu. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggled to form his first government after barely winning an election following a decade in political exile.

It was March 31, and it would have been perfectly legal to form a government the following day. But Netanyahu was aware that if the process stretched a moment past midnight, his cabinet would be known as an April Fool’s government.

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The main problem was that Netanyahu’s then-rival in the Likud, Silvan Shalom, was playing hard-to-get in order to obtain the meaningless title of vice premier and other perks from the prime minister.

Netanyahu knew he needed to call in a professional to close the deal. He phoned his friend, Hollywood mega-producer Arnon Milchan, who rushed to the Knesset.

Milchan asked a Jerusalem Post reporter in the Knesset hallway how to get to Shalom’s office, and the reporter led him there. After all, you don’t mess with the man who, at the time, was putting the finishing touches on the cult film classic Fight Club.

That government ended up lasting more than four years and was one of Israel’s most stable, despite its wide spectrum of opinions on diplomatic issues.

Eight years later, just ahead of March 31, Netanyahu made a deal preventing the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation from being able to control its news division. Instead, it will be controlled by the head of the current Israel Broadcasting Authority, Barry Bar-Zion, a Netanyahu confidant.

The deal he reached with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon ensured that Netanyahu will maintain significant control over another media outlet.

His critics say that with media outlets less willing to challenge the prime minister, press freedom has taken a blow.

The Likud counters those critics by saying that it is the media that is obsessed with Netanyahu, and not the other way around.

But even Likud MKs have been saying behind closed doors that they don’t understand why Netanyahu cares so much about the media. That focus on the press has led to the government being unstable and weak despite it being homogeneous on diplomatic issues.

That could make the next fight over settlements or whatever mega-deal on the Palestinian issue that comes out of US President Donald Trump’s administration too tough for the current government to handle.

Netanyahu would then require professional assistance, like what he received back in 2009 from Milchan.

But Netanyahu is now in legal trouble for receiving gifts from the same Hollywood producer, so that is out of the question.

In retrospect, Netanyahu’s attempt to take over public broadcasting in Israel could end up being remembered as the move that transformed his current cabinet into the foolish government he fought to avoid forming nearly a decade ago.

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