Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on public broadcasting that ended a political dispute between them that could have led to an election will face a challenge in the High Court of Justice Monday, when three petitions are expected to be filed against the deal.The petitions will be filed by Knesset Economics Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), attorney Eldad Yaniv and the Israeli Press Association. They each will give legal reasons as to why the court should disqualify the deal.But the agreement is unlikely to be canceled by the court, because Netanyahu received a stamp of approval from Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit.
In a further legal boost for the prime minister on Sunday, Mandelblit responded in a letter to criticism from the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel over his refusal to ban Netanyahu from any dealings related to media laws.Mandelblit said that he had previously declared specific areas off limits to Netanyahu, and noted the prime minister’s giving up the Communications portfolio.However, he said that there are certain aspects of being a prime minister which carry inherent authority to be involved in a wide range of aspects of the legislative process and that this authority could not be curtailed unless there was a specific conflict of interest.Although he did not say so explicitly, by saying there were no conflicts to prevent Netanyahu from involvement in the media law legislation, Mandelblit’s statement suggests that he does not view ongoing investigations of possible crimes by Netanyahu in his dealings with the media as a conflict. Late on Sunday, Haaretz reported that Mandelblit may have sidelined one of his top aides, an expert on the media laws, who opposed the deal, former deputy attorney-general Avi Licht.There was no public denial of the account by Mandelblit. If true, it would be one of the first times that Mandelblit has been publicly reported as taking a position against one of his own top aides, who he has promoted and who may represent the Justice Ministry bureaucracy.Besides legal hurdles, Netanyahu may also face an uphill battle passing the deal in the Knesset. The legislation was supposed to be brought for a first reading on Wednesday, but coalition chairman David Bitan postponed it until after Passover because the bill was not ready. A new Knesset committee headed by Bitan will be formed to legislate the bill so it will not have to go through Cabel’s committee.Netanyahu also faces a challenge on the bill from inside his Likud faction.Likud MK Yehudah Glick asked Netanyahu on Twitter to provide his professional considerations for replacing the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation’s news division, which Glick wrote “left a bad taste” in his mouth.Bitan responded by attacking Glick, saying that he did not want to punish him for insubordination, because that would require him to see Glick.Netanyahu also faced criticism on the public broadcasting issue Sunday from former prime minister Ehud Barak. In an interview with Army Radio, Barak suggested that Netanyahu is trying to “destroy the media” because of his criminal investigations.He mocked Netanyahu’s opposition in the Knesset for being ineffective, as well as Kahlon for giving into Netanyahu in the deal. “Would Kahlon also give in if Netanyahu decided to appoint his dog Kaiya as head of the news division?” Barak asked.
Israel Broadcasting Authority ( IBA ) staff in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv protest against closure, on March 19, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)