The nation will not be going to early elections, thanks to an agreement reached on Thursday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that resolved a political crisis over public broadcasting.Both Kahlon and the Likud claimed victory over a compromise reached in six meetings of Netanyahu, Kahlon and their professional staffs, which was given a legal stamp of approval by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. At a press conference at the Finance Ministry’s Tel Aviv office, Kahlon said he had succeeded in preserving freedom of the media and protecting the public’s coffers.“I have stood as a rock for democracy and taxpayer money,” Kahlon, who is also chairman of the Kulanu party, said.
“This was a struggle for principles, not ego. Taxpayer money was not wasted.That was my duty and I did it. There will be no political influence over any media outlet, and in the Israel Broadcasting Corporation that is being formed, the politicians have been distanced. Its monitoring council will be untouchable by politicians.”According to the agreement, the corporation that the prime minister opposed will still go on the air, but its news department will be run by the staff of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Much of the news staff the corporation hired will lose their jobs. While the current heads of the corporation, whom Netanyahu wanted fired, will remain, the news department will be run by a new director-general chosen by a council led by a judge.The corporation will go on the air on May 15 instead of its current target of April 30, pending legislation passing in the Knesset in a special spring recess session that will be held on Wednesday. A bill proposed by the Likud that would have increased supervision of the media will not be advanced, as part of the deal with Kahlon, who said the legislation justifiably scared journalists.“It is a deal that both sides could live with,” said coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud). “It will prevent elections 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 saga is over.”Following the agreement’s announcement, the staff of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation began protesting and blocking streets in Tel Aviv.Yaara Shapira, a member of the journalists’ committee of the IBC and a reporter in its news division, expressed discontent from what she dubs the “corrupt deal,” and called on Kahlon and other politicians to reverse the decision in order to protect the public’s interest.“There are no limits to the political sarcasm,” she said. “The cabinet ministers are announcing – without even trying to hide it – that they are taking over a media outlet in order to make it a propaganda tool. Not only does the corporation have hundreds of excellent journalists, there are also public values that should not be compromised.We are calling on every decent citizen to do their best to protect our most basic values, which are dear to all of us.”IBA veteran anchors Yaakov Ahimeir and Arye Golan, who would have kept their jobs no matter what would happen with the dispute, also criticized the agreement. “The IBC has been castrated,” Ahimeir said. “News is the heartbeat of the organization.”Ahimeir, who has been with the IBA for 50 years, expressed hope that there will be no political interference and that the news division will remain independent.Despite the alarm bells that have been ringing with allegations that Netanyahu wants to take control of the media and pressure news organizations, Ahimeir said he believes Israeli news organizations are strong enough to withstand the pressure.Golan confessed that he did not understand exactly what happened.“I don’t know what’s happening and why,” he said.“It hasn’t crystallized yet for me. I still have to learn what it all means. I’ve never seen such chaos.”Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) criticized the prime minister for the way he handled the crisis and said the consequences of the deal mean giving up the most valuable thing for a democracy – the news.“It allows Netanyahu to gain time in which he will continue to terrorize the media,” Herzog told delegates at Thursday’s Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv.“Whatever started crooked will work crookedly and continue crookedly because it’s crooked. Like the spirit of [Soviet Union leader Leonid] Brezhnev and [North Korean dictator] Kim Jongil, Netanyahu established his own newspaper [a reference to the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom] and his own new television station – Bibi’s Pravda in the spirit of the Likud broadcasting authority.”MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), a former chairman of the IBA, said the deal represents the destruction of public broadcasting in the country.“There is no public broadcasting like this in any other place in the world,” he said.“There will be no IBC and no news. Everybody lost and above all, the Israeli public.They have destroyed the IBA and built nothing.”MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) said the agreement is bad for all sides, and he slammed Netanyahu for dealing with this matter and not the nation’s more important challenges.“Mr. Prime Minister, maybe now you can finally concentrate on the important issues that the State of Israel is facing instead of dealing in which politician will be in control of some television channel?” “This is a government that moves from one crisis to another because of jobs for cronies,” Peri continued.“This is not a government that works for the citizens but for only itself.”The Israel Democracy Institute called on MKs to vote down the framework reached by Netanyahu and Kahlon.“Netanyahu tried to bring public broadcasting down to its knees and succeeded,” IDI president Yohanan Plesner and IDF Media Reform Program director Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler said in a joint statement. “Netanyahu trampled a reform that was conducted with hard work by his government, and in so doing, he harmed every governmental and democratic process. But more than anything else, he delivered the message that he is the ‘real boss’ of those who work in public broadcasting, and to other media outlets he made clear whom they need to serve.”
As Netanyahu faces police questioning, rivals look "post-Bibi" (credit: REUTERS)