BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and finance minister Moshe Kahlon..
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon finally agreed on Thursday on the fate of Israel’s new public broadcasting-without-a-news division corporation, its new employees blocked traffic in Tel Aviv to protest the move. Such was the first public expression of no-confidence in a long-overdue settlement to an artificial crisis that got so beyond reason as to seriously threaten to tear asunder the coalition and trigger a totally unnecessary early election.
According to the great compromise, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation that the prime minister opposed will still go on the air, but its news department will be run by the staff of the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.
A bill proposed by the Likud that would increase supervision of the press will not be advanced, as part of the deal with Kulanu chairman Kahlon, who said the bill justifiably scared journalists.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit approved the agreement and assured everyone it is legal. “The news division of the public broadcaster, which is funded by the taxpayers, will be formed mainly from IBA workers,” he said. “It is a deal that both sides could live with; it will prevent an election and guarantee the continuation of a good coalition for our country. This deal is good for the Likud, good for the media and mainly good for the people of Israel.”
The very announcement of the settlement by the two rival party leaders seemed to be one of mutual embarrassment.
Kahlon defended his deal-making at a brief press conference, at which he declared himself the winner then made a hasty exit after refusing to answer reporters’ questions.
Netanyahu signaled the true importance of the deal for him by choosing to announce it as an aside during his press conference with visiting Slovakian President Andrej Kiska. In the words of Jerusalem Post
political correspondent Gil Hoffman, “Perhaps because they realized the public could not care less about public broadcasting that barely anyone watches. All the deal did was switch one group of journalists in the unemployment line with another.”
To the contrary, said Kahlon, “The battle in recent days has been a battle of principles, not ego. It ensures freedom of the press, freedom of speech and it is keeping with the budget. According to the framework of the agreement, there will be no political influence [on the Israel Broadcasting Corporation].”
This is wishful thinking that was doused by opposition to the deal, expressed by opposition and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, who said it means the state broadcaster will now be “Bibi’s Pravda.” Meretz leader Zahava Galon warned that the agreement gives the prime minister “unprecedented political control over news broadcasts.”
Opposition to the deal was also expressed by more than a few hundred veteran IBA employees about to lose their jobs.
Israel Broadcasting Corporation employees announced plans for further protests. “We will oppose these corrupt efforts by the government to wield control over Israel’s free media and specifically its public broadcaster,” the workers’ union said.
The compromise reached between Netanyahu and Kahlon makes one wonder what all the fuss has been about over shutting down the IBA and replacing it with the IBC.
It was clear that the long-bloated IBA was in dire need of reform. Netanyahu, at first, was one of the main supporters of the creation of the IBC after long claiming that its predecessor was too left-wing and difficult for him to control.
Of course, he proudly confided, his primary concern was always to save jobs at the IBA.
This turns out to be an unintended result of the deal that makes the IBC staffed “primarily” by former IBA employees. There are already 763 employees working for the new broadcaster, 421 of whom came from the IBA. The Finance Ministry pledges to provide a severance package to employees of both the IBA and IBC, aka Kan, who will not be included in either.
The body that results from all this horse trading and countless hours of negotiations will probably not look much different from the IBA that we know (let’s hope they are smart enough to retain the English news department).
But with, one hopes, the sorry saga now behind us, it will free some time up for our leaders to actually govern.