Media Comment: Netanyahu, government and the media

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu
As we wrote two weeks ago, the saga of public broadcasting in Israel is truly never-ending. As of the writing of this article, the future is not clear. Perhaps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will reach a compromise or an agreement regarding the future format of a public broadcasting service. Perhaps not, and we will have new elections. What is unbelievable is the amount of time wasted on our airwaves and the number of trees destroyed on this issue, and most of it not addressing one of the central issues at hand, namely governance and how our present government operates.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the endless saga is truly very worrisome.
The fundamental question is not whether his policy is right or wrong, whether he is interested in controlling the media or is just using the public broadcasting issue as an excuse for going to new elections. What should be of concern, and appears not to be, is the prime minister’s decision-making process.
We will give Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt and assume that he truly realized that the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) legislation, which had been introduced and led by former communications minister Gilad Erdan, was flawed from the outset. The legislation wrested control of the public broadcaster from the government, which at least previously had public oversight, and gave it to an unelected elite, themselves not free of a desire for political, cultural and ideological control.
Last July, the prime minister reached an agreement with Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn to defer the implementation of the IBC until the beginning of 2018. This meant that already then, Netanyahu realized his error. Minister Kahlon at that time disagreed with Netanyahu and wanted to see the IBC go into action and the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) closed down.
Kahlon obviously agreed with at least one senior official involved in the new IBC, who was quoted as saying that in putting off the start of the new IBC until 2018, the prime minister was “trying to concoct some kind of formula that will include the old IBA and the new corporation and will preserve all the dysfunctional management culture and political control that has prevailed at the IBA.”
Kahlon and Netanyahu then reached a compromise by which the IBC would start operations on April 30, 2017, that is, a month from now. But if Netanyahu realized his error back in July, what did he gain from deferment? One might argue that he obtained the time needed to convince Minister Kahlon that his decision is the right one. The prime minister gained nine months in which to resolve any remaining differences.
But nothing was done until two weeks ago, until the last minute. Netanyahu did not submit new legislation or enter into serious negotiations with anyone. Only at the last minute did he “wake up.”
The impression is that the deferment was obtained to: a) move a thorny issue away from the decision making process for a while; b) use the old Jewish thinking that time would resolve the issues and that by some miraculous process, something would happen to remove the problem. We are not under the impression that a serious decision-making process was implemented.
Netanyahu’s allies, especially in the form of coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud), claim that the coalition agreement signed by Kahlon imposes upon him the obligation to accept the decisions made by the Likud regarding the media. Therefore, either Kahlon accepts Netanyahu’s directive or there will be new elections.
But we would ask MK Bitan why wait until after the Knesset goes for its spring break? Why weren’t these issues resolved one way or the other without working under last-minute pressure? A fundamental difference between the IBC issue and the government’s decision making process concerning the tunnel threat from Gaza is that in contrast to defense issues, here the ploys are on the table, open for anyone who wants to see them. Netanyahu’s decision making process seems to be very flawed. Looking ahead and planning for the future does not seem to be the signature of his government.
The case can be made that this modus operandi of the government is evident in many other issues. These would include the Amona evacuation crisis which was left for the last minute, the lack of a coherent strategy with regard to the new US administration, apart from the order to the ministers not to mention the issue, the last-minute retraction of the compromise concerning the usage of the Western Wall area by Conservative and Reform Jewry and many other items.
Our media complains that the prime minister is attempting to control it, stifling free speech and freedom of opinion.
People such as the IBA’s Aryeh Golan and Prof. Moshe Negbi claim that Netanyahu’s actions are a threat to Israel’s democracy.
They, together with the Israel Democracy Institute’s vice-chair Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, compare Netanyahu’s actions to the dictatorial practices in countries such as Turkey or Russia.
Right-wing journalist and editor of Makor Rishon Hagai Segal attempted last weekend to analyze the motives of the prime minister.
But he only succeeded in concluding what his true motives are not. They are not that the IBC is left-wing dominated and the IBA is a bastion of right-wing conservative thinking. We all know that for years, the IBA has been and continues to be dominated by so-called liberals who impose their convictions on the public and do it with public funding. Netanyahu’s actions have nothing to do with ideology, but then what? Segal admits he does not know.
Even Segal, though, missed the point. It is not what the motives are, but how Netanyahu goes about acting on them: in the most shlemiel fashion imaginable.
There is a Chinese motto which says that the best emperor is he who does nothing.
But we are not Chinese. We are a small country, that cannot afford to lose a single war. We cannot afford to wait until the estate owner, the poritz in Yiddish, dies.
There is a well-known story of two friends, an American and an Israeli. The Israeli asks his friend, “do you know what differentiates us? You are 90% stupid, we are 90% smart. But do you know what we have in common? It is the remaining 10% that governs.”
Bad governance and the IBC/IBA farce is a luxury Israel cannot afford.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch,