Bennett and Kahlon Go Head-to-head With Netanyahu Over Public Broadcaster Deal

Coalition partners Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu set to vote against PM's plan to delay launch of new broadcaster to 2018, despite their commitment to support his communications reforms. Netanyahu accuses the two of being guided by 'other matters,' not by concerns over press freedom.

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Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, 2015.
Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, 2015.Credit: Olivieh Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Senior members of the coalition vowed on Wednesday to prevent the postponement of a planned reform of the public broadcasting authority, deepening a political crisis with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, is considered the driving force behind the move to postpone the reform, and under the coalition agreement, all coalition parties pledged to support any media reform pushed by Netanyahu. But coalition members argue that this provision doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“Under the coalition agreement, we’re committed to support initiatives advanced by the communications minister, but we aren’t committed to support canceling reforms that were already approved,” said one. “Changing dates isn’t a reform, but the cancelation of a reform.”

The agreement also obligates coalition factions not to support any bill related to the media that the communications minister hasn’t approved, and to actively oppose any such bill if the communications minister opposes it.

The planned reform would replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority with a new, hopefully more efficient and more independent agency, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation. But under a deal reached between Netanyahu and Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn on Monday, the new corporation’s launch would be delayed for 15 months.

Two key coalition parties, Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu, sounded determined on Wednesday to prevent this postponement. Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett said he wouldn’t approve any delay, because it would undermine the IPBC’s status and independence. Party leaders said the only circumstance that would lead them to support a postponement was if the IPBC’s own executives requested one.

Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon, who is also the finance minister, has said he won’t approve the additional funding for the IBA that a postponement would necessarily require. He said he would also vote against postponement if the decision is brought to the cabinet for a vote.

So far, however, he has received no official word from Netanyahu about the postponement; the person who announced it was Nissenkorn.

Sources in both Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu said that in the end, they would probably agree to some delay, but only a brief one, and only if IPBC executives approve of it.

Netanyahu commented on the subject while on a visit to southern Israel, saying: “There will be contiguous, accessible and efficient public broadcasts in Israel.”  He also said that despite technical problems the issue would be resolved. Responding to Bennett's criticism Netanyahu said: “Those who speak about freedom of the press - it doesn’t match their efforts to shut down Yisrael Hayom. That’s not exactly freedom of the press; it seems that they are being guided by other matters.”

A source in Netanyahu’s Likud party retorted that Bennett and his party’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, had led the campaign to shut down the daily Israel Hayom. Therefore, he said, they “aren’t acting in the name of freedom of expression, but in the name of Noni Mozes,” owner of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and its website, Ynet. In exchange, the Likud source charged, Mozes gives them flattering coverage in his news outlets.

President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in on the debate, saying he was troubled by the situation. "I think the lifeblood of democracy is public broadcasting. I know there can be influences from all over. But public broadcasting, with its capability of existing as an independent agency, is the lifeblood of democracy.

“Public broadcasting can have people with particular opinions, as long as people with other opinions are also allowed to express their views,” Rivlin continued. “The role of public broadcasting is to enable every Israeli citizen to form an opinion about every issue under discussion. Without public broadcasting, we’d be a democracy with a certain handicap. Woe unto us if we bring about a situation in which there is no public broadcasting in Israel.”

He added that the courts and public broadcasting were “among the most important things” needed for the country to be able to meet the difficult challenges it faces.

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