Finance Minister and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon gave no sign on Sunday of backing down in the face of threats from the prime minister regarding the new public broadcaster, as several senior ministers came out in public opposition to the premier’s threat to call an election.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to prevent the nascent Israel Broadcasting Cooperation from beginning operations and said on Saturday night that if Kahlon did not agree to shut it down he would dissolve the government and call an election.One of the main reasons the prime minister gave was concern for the 1,000 employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority to be replaced by the IBC, but Kahlon said he would ensure they are dealt with fairly.
“There are some problems at the moment, unfortunately the IBA workers have fallen between the gaps, but I don’t need lessons on compassion or ethics sermons from anyone,” said Kahlon.“We will deal with these people in the best way; other people have not taken responsibility, we will... I promise to deal with the problems of the IBA workers; they are not our opponents or enemies, they will be dealt with through a framework of retirement and acceptance into the IBC,” he added.Kahlon’s comments would appear to indicate that he does not intend to accede to Netanyahu’s call to prevent the establishment of the IBC, as is expected by April 30.He also implicitly criticized Netanyahu, saying that it had been the last government which decided to close the IBA and open the IBC, and accused the prime minister of seeking to shirk his responsibility for the situation.“It’s easy to take the good things and to throw the bad things on to someone else... A leader needs to lead no matter what,” said Kahlon.On Saturday night, Netanyahu insisted that the only reason the IBC had been created was to save money, which he said had been already achieved by efficiencies adopted by the IBA of late, and that there was therefore no need to close the IBA and fire its workers.Before boarding his flight to China, the prime minister demanded that the coalition agreements giving the Likud primacy in decisions regarding the media and the IBC be honored.Netanyahu is in China for a three-day visit marking 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.“It’s not possible that we in the Likud have 30 [Knesset] seats and honor all clauses of the coalition agreements of the small parties, including on issues we don’t agree with..., and when it comes to our clauses, which are important to the Likud and me, these are not honored,” Netanyahu fumed.“This is not acceptable to me.”Having originally backed the IBC, Netanyahu has grown wary of it and has sought to stymie its establishment, 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.Kahlon has opposed abolishing the new public broadcaster, on the grounds that it would be costly and wasteful of the resources already pumped in to it.Despite the prime minister’s arguments, a host of senior government ministers, including from the Likud, came out strongly against holding an election, in defiance of Netanyahu’s apparent willingness to go to the ballot box over the IBC.Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) said the furor over the IBC is no reason to go to the polls, as did Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, also from the Likud, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi saying that an election would be damaging and unnecessary.“I call on the prime minister, come, let us not drag the country to an unnecessary election, not over the IBC,” said Bennett, speaking at the same press conference with Kahlon.Katz concurred.“You don’t go to elections over a media argument,” Katz said in an interview on Sunday morning with Army Radio, adding that there had been no internal discussions or decisions in the Likud party and leadership about such a step, and noting that there were disagreements over substantive issues within the coalition.Liberman spoke in similarly blunt terms.“Anyone with intelligence understands that an election is the last thing the Jewish people needs at this moment,” said Liberman, during a visit to the IDF base at Tel Hashomer. “There is no reason to break up the current coalition. Everyone needs to do the maximum in order to keep working properly.”Steinitz said an early election would be “pure damage” to the country and to good governance, saying that Israel needs stability and for a compromise to be worked out between Netanyahu and Kahlon.Shaked wrote on Twitter that “responsibility and discretion” are needed to prevent an election, adding that the disagreement over the IBC is not an ideological matter and there is no reason to break up the government over it.She also said that she believes the crisis will be resolved through a compromise.Nevertheless, Netanyahu allies and fellow Likud members Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin took to the airways to defend the prime minister against allegations that his opposition to the IBC is not sufficient reason to dissolve the Knesset and call an election.Regev framed the dispute as a violation of the coalition agreement signed between the Likud and Kulanu, and insisted that just as the Likud had supported legislation for coalition partners, those parties needed to get behind bills important to the prime minister.“No one is afraid of elections, the public will determine if one needs to abide by coalition agreements or not,” she said on Army Radio.“It can’t be that whenever we’re talking about the Likud’s coalition agreements that there is some excuse not to fulfill them. We will blow things up not over the IBC but over the principle, we will blow things up on the principle that coalition agreements need to be kept,” she continued.Regev argued that the Israel Broadcasting Authority, scheduled to be shuttered when the IBC begins operations, is working fine, and that it would be cheaper to keep the IBA running.The fiery minister said that the IBC would be “a closed club” and would be unrepresentative of Israeli society and without sufficient oversight or regulation.
Israel Broadcasting Authority ( IBA ) staff in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv protest against closure, on March 19, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)