Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clash with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reached a new peak Sunday, when Netanyahu vowed to push his plan to dismantle the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) despite Kahlon’s firm opposition.
Netanyahu’s associates said all he needs to pass the plan to maintain the current Israel Broadcasting Authority is the support of a majority of the cabinet. If the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism ministers vote for it, there will be a majority that will obligate the entire coalition and enable the plan’s passage in the Knesset.
“Our chances of closing the IBC have increased in recent days,” said coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud). “There is a majority in the coalition. If coalition obligations are kept, there will be a majority in the Knesset.”
Netanyahu informed the heads of the six parties in his coalition in a meeting that the process of passing the IBC’s cancellation will begin in next Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon noticeably absented himself from the meeting, as well as from a meeting of the cabinet.
A source in Kulanu said he boycotted the meetings because he was upset that Likud officials had been besmirching him in the media and accusing him of being left-wing.
“Kahlon had more important things to do, like work on the state budget and prepare for his meeting with US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew,” a source close to the Kulanu leader said. “Kahlon is very courageous. He left the Likud and he founded Kulanu, so his behavior over the past few days should not surprise anyone.”
Kahlon could use his power to veto legislation, which costs more than NIS 400 million, in order to stymie the plan.
Political sources said that if any politician does end up surprising Netanyahu, it could end up being UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman. While Litzman said last week that he would likely support closing the IBC because he thought his coalition agreement with the Likud obligated him to do so, his associates said he might end up interpreting the agreement differently.
Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel said Netanyahu was working to close the IBC because he wants a media outlet of yes-men, with journalists who will lick his hands.
“The countdown to the end of your regime has begun,” Cabel said. “You might have another term, but it should be clear to you that your swan song has started.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak also waded into the controversy, saying Sunday that the decision made now on the future of KAN, the IBC call-sign, will determine if there will be a free press in Israel. Writing on Facebook, Barak said only a blind or anaïve person would fail to see the fallacies in the arguments and explanations that are being bandied about. The main obstacle confronting the new public broadcasting entity is Netanyahu’s obsessive fear of media criticism, declared Barak.
Barak has repeatedly denied he is preparing for a political comeback.
The Israel Press Council has set up a response team to deal with any infringement of journalistic ethics or freedom of the press, and the Israel Democracy Institute held an emergency meeting on Sunday in light of the reports.
Institute president Yohanan Plesner said: “Something beautiful and unique happened two years ago when a law was passed that created a new corporation that would contain a mechanism for maintaining independence and an engine for facilitating local production.
“I hope and expect that the people behind this legislation, including Minister Gilad Erdan and other Likud members, won’t simply accept any changes made to the law and then justify this acceptance in some way, shape or form.
“Respective coalition party heads have an opportunity to confirm that the work of their factions will in no way harm the democratic institutions and values of the State of Israel. This issue can’t simply be addressed as if we’re dealing with just another political debate.”
Knesset faction chairman MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu) said that he was outraged by the attempt to portray the battle over the new public broadcasting corporation as a leftright issue, and noted that Interior Minister Arye Deri, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Kahlon do not represent “left-wing” views.
“The difference between me and Bitan is that I sat down with everyone and have seen the numbers.
And the facts are crystal clear: Israeli citizens will have to pay an additional NIS 400m. every year if the corporation is not established.
Everything can be streamlined for efficiency: the ports, the postal service, even the Standards Institute,” he said.
Folkman acknowledged that, “While this story has two sides, the prime minister, for whom I have great respect, is taking a disproportionate role in the running of the country’s media. Politicians cannot formulate and manage the public agenda based on personal popularity.”
Knesset House Committee chairman MK Yoav Kish (Likud), claimed to be unbiased in his approach and said that he sat down with Finance Ministry officials as well as with Bitan, but he never got to see a Finance Ministry document pertaining to the budget.
Kish said it is worth noting that the Finance Ministry has its own agenda and has made many mistakes in budgetary matters. Nonetheless, he will not support any effort to liquidate the IBC.
“I believe in public broadcasting and want Israel to have a strong public broadcasting sector,” he said, but warned that it has to be run in a financially efficient manner.
Former Jerusalem Journalist Association chairman Danny Zaken, a senior editor and broadcaster on Reshet Bet, lamented on Friday that staff members of the IBA who have signed contracts with the IBC are torn between two worlds, being currently obligated to both, and struggling desperately to fulfill their responsibilities to each.
The association has put forward what it considers to be a win-win solution to the problem, which is to merge the IBC with the IBA and to create a new public broadcasting service out of the joint resources.
But that would put them back at square one, with what the Finance Ministry will consider to be a staff overload.