Israel's 'Fascist' Culture Minister Is but a Mouthpiece for Netanyahu

Netanyahu hasn't given up on his goal to wrest control over the new public broadcast corporation. The latest opposition to it has his fingerprints all over.

In a cartoon, Netanyahu is seen at a TV control room, watching dozens of screens, all of which showing his face. A caption reads: "The beauty of multi-channel TV."
Cartoon Eran Wolkowski

Less than a week has passed since Benjamin Netanyahu reached some sort of common ground with his finance minister, thereby ostensibly ending the furor surrounding the new public broadcast corporation. On Sunday, however, it turned out that with the prime minister, a “compromise” merely means that he’s going to continue to wage his battle by other means. His goal remains uncompromised: to threaten, sabotage, oppress and, unfortunately, to control the new corporation, which already seems doomed.

Last week Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed that the new entity, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, would begin operation by April 1, 2017 at the latest, at which time it would replace the veteran Israel Broadcast Authority.

No sooner had the Sabbath ended did we learn of a new legislative drive by the coalition chairman, Likud Knesset Member David Bitan. Bitan proposes to cancel the plan for a new broadcast corporation and return to the good old IBA. At the same time, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin said he would sponsor a law stipulating that the broadcast corporation would operate only out of the capital of Israel (Jerusalem). An appropriate Zionist message for the broadcast companies of our enemies.

Netanyahu’s fingerprints on all this are screamingly easy to see.

He knows a thing or two about psychological warfare. His coalition partners thwarted his plan to drag out the inauguration of the corporation’s operations until Eldad Koblenz – the man appointed in early 2015 to establish and lead the company that will replace the IBA, and its acting CEO – and Gil Omer, its chairman, quit in despair. (The new company has been established, but isn’t broadcasting yet). So Netanyahu sat back for a bit, regrouped – and sicced Bitan and Elkin on the pair.

Even if the legislative proposals don’t stand a chance, the message to Koblenz and Omer is clear: They are marked. They are in the crosshairs. The prime minister will not rest until he gets what he wants. He himself said once that anything he wants, he gets.

The lowest point in the saga of Bibi and the broadcast corporation (though further descent is certainly possible) happened at Sunday's cabinet session. The very walls must have blushed in shame upon hearing the discussion over the hypothetical political affiliation of young journalists recruited to work at the new corporation, involving the counting of heads like at a fish market of Likudniks versus Mafdalniks, and knitted skullcaps versus black ones. Or when Culture Minister Miri Regev shouted, “What, we give them money and they broadcast whatever they want? It is inconceivable that we establish a corporation that we won't control. What's the point?”

Not even the keenest of satirical critics would have had a character playing a culture minister who says such inane, contemptible things, amplifying her stereotype – which Regev claims is entirely an artifact of bigotry because she is a Mizrahi (Sephardi) woman.

By the way, for the last 15 months, the person sitting next to her at the cabinet table is another Mizrahi woman, the minister for social equality, Gila Gamliel, who demonstrates professionalism, statesmanlike behavior, equality. She has never had the same stereotypes as Regev attached to her.

Bitan, with his bill, and Regev, with her fomenting – that’s how Netanyahu operates. They are channeling him, echoing him. They are his subtext, his alter egos.

Lest there be doubt: When Bitan commented, at a meeting of the Economic Affairs Committee last week, that the Israeli press is “too free,” he was accurately reflecting the mood of his boss. When Regev suggested on Sunday that Koblenz be barred from becoming the permanent CEO, she was reflecting, exactly, what Netanyahu was telling his ministers in private conversations.

Only two Likud ministers represented a semblance of normalcy at the cabinet meeting. One was Gilad Erdan, whose idea it had been to reform public broadcasting in Israel in the first place (when serving as communications minister). He unleashed a series of sarcastic broadsides that punctured Regev’s hollow rhetoric. The other was Gila Gamliel. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked represented the right-wing position, and Moshe Kahlon, guard-dog of democracy, was mum.