Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after signing the coalition agreement.
(photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
0A severe coalition crisis was averted on Thursday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reportedly agreed that the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation would begin operations on April 30, following earlier calls by Netanyahu to prevent its establishment.
In return, Kahlon agreed to a support a ministerial bill which would create a unified state regulatory body for news broadcasting, but which has been criticized by opposition parties for creating government control over the body and thereby threaten press freedoms.
Earlier on Thursday, Kahlon appeared willing to defy the prime minister’s wish to again postpone the opening of the IBC by six months and accused Netanyahu of seeking to control public broadcasting for his own political ends.
Netanyahu has for several months sought to postpone and stymie the establishment of the IBC, claiming that it lacks sufficient oversight and that its large costs of some NIS 700 million annually require greater public supervision than originally allowed for.
Amidst the shake-up, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri threatened that if these kind of confrontations will not end, he will pull out of the government.
"I do not intend to stay in a cabinet that performs as such, where everyone tries 'to take out one another.'" He said. "If people are not willing to come to their senses, we better go to elections." On Wednesday night, prime minister's public call on Kahlon to work together with him to remedy the situation sparked this 24-hours crisis.
Netanyahu was saying that it was “not too late to fix,” and that such changes could be made without undue costs, one of Kahlon’s concerns about further delaying the establishment of the IBC, or in totally abolishing it.
The prime minister also spoke out in defense of employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which the IBC will replace, saying that it was not just that many would lose their jobs because the IBA is being shut down.
Kahlon in response blasted Netanyahu on Thursday morning, accusing him of seeking to control public broadcasting, and of hypocrisy in his stance towards the IBA having previously compared its workers to Hamas in a controversial election ad in the 2015 election campaign.
“You are not really interested in public broadcasting, just control,” fumed the Finance Minister.
“You need to understand - I left the Likud, you won’t trick me like this. When it’s tough you disappear, and when there are achievements you show up.”
Earlier this week, acting Communications Minsiter Tzahi Hanegbi acknowledged that the new regulatory body stipulated in the proposed legislation would come under the authority of the Communications Ministry.
And he stressed that the government’s right to appoint a regulatory body over the media is equivalent to its right to appoint other senior posts.
“As the cabinet has the right to appoint the IDF chief of staff, the police commissioner, the Supreme Court justices and the heads of the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and the Mossad, it has the right to appoint a regulator in the Communications Ministry that will oversee the media,” he said.
“We will not spend NIS 700 million on a new corporation so that they can do whatever they want,” he added.
Meanwhile, opposition MKs expressed their discontent from the coalition's decision to advance the "communications bill". MK Ofer Selah (Yesh Atid) said that this bill reflects the lack of leadership in this government, and that main damage it that it will cause will be to the Israeli democracy.
"In Netanyahu's falling apart coalition, everyone pulls to their side and no one cares about dealing with the real affairs of the country," said Shelah. "This is when you have a prime minister that does absolutely nothing but dealing with his obsession against the media. [He isn't dealing with] Security, the economy – nothing but the IBA and the IBC, and who will oversee Channels 2 and 10 and how we can take care of "Israel Hayom." Shelah added that this bill demonstrates the submission of the cabinet to what he sees as Netanyahu's obsessions.
"This "communications bill" that Netanyahu is advancing is another step in his ongoing incitement against the countries democratic institutions," he said. "A dark, cowardly bill, that helps nothing but providing satisfaction to Bibi's way of treating the media. His partners in the government know that, but they are surrendering on the expense of our democracy," he added.
MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) said that Netanyahu is taking using the workers of the IBA in a cynical way.
"The person who always showed his disdain from labor union's struggles who were asking fair employment, is now supposedly defending the IBA employees," he said. "Anyone who follows Netanyahu's actions throughout the years knows that his main goal is to get full control over the media in Israel – both commercial and public," he added. "This so-call support he expresses is another way to silence the freedom of speech. I he really want to assist the IBA workers he should initiate a reform that the promises full employment to all of them in the new IBC."