Netanyahu Admits He Opposes Establishment of New Public Broadcast Corporation

At meeting with journalists, Israeli prime minister expressed fear of not being able to control staff appointments and asked ‘what if everyone in the corporation were people from Breaking the Silence?’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, 17 July 2016.
Abir Sultan, Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he “regrets” the establishment of a new public broadcasting corporation to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

He added that the Communications Ministry’s 2014 decision to establish the new body “escaped my attention” because he was busy with a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that summer. He made the remarks during a meeting in his office with employees of Channel 1 television and Israel Radio, both of which are part of the IBA.

The law to establish the new corporation was pushed through by then-Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, with backing from then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid. At the time, Netanyahu supported it, and even cited the cancelation of the television license fee – a major source of revenue for the IBA – in his 2015 election campaign.

Nevertheless, he has repeatedly tried to delay the new corporation’s establishment, apparently because, in contrast to the IBA, politicians will have no influence over the appointment of its senior staff.

The first delay was in appointing the corporation’s board of directors, a process that took a full year longer than planned. Then, a few weeks ago, Netanyahu reached a deal with Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn to postpone the corporation’s launch for another 15 months.

A public outcry coupled with fierce opposition from his coalition partners forced him into a partial retreat, and in the end, the cabinet approved a shorter delay of three to seven months. Thus instead of launching in October, the corporation is now slated to start work sometime between January and April 2017.

But despite all these delays, yesterday marked the first time Netanyahu has openly admitted that he opposes the corporation’s establishment.

A member of his Likud party, MK David Bitan, has been pushing legislation to scrap the new corporation, and at yesterday’s meeting, journalists asked whether the company would ever actually start work. Netanyahu refused to answer, and the journalists said they got the clear impression that he would rather it didn’t.

At this meeting, which lasted about four hours, Netanyahu said the new corporation was problematic. “What if everyone in the corporation were people from Breaking the Silence?” he asked rhetorically, referring to an anti-occupation NGO that collects testimony from soldiers serving in the West Bank.

Last Thursday, Netanyahu held a similar four-hour meeting with employees of Channel 2 television, a privately owned station that isn’t part of the IBA. Both meetings ran much longer than planned, and people who attended said Netanyahu repeatedly postponed other meetings, including some involving security issues, so he could extend his conversations with the journalists.

About 20 reporters and editors from Channel 1 and Israel Radio attended yesterday’s meeting. People who were present said Netanyahu’s side of the conversation was highly politically incorrect, including repeated uses of the English-language phrase “What the fuck.”

Aside from discussing media issues, the prime minister briefed the journalists on regional security issues and insisted he had warned in real time about Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels – an indirect slap at his rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of ignoring the tunnel problem prior to the 2014 war.

He also said he was “pained” by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s resignation from the cabinet in May. Ya’alon has since become a fierce critic of the government.

Netanyahu’s spokesman, Boaz Stembler, said he “doesn’t comment on the prime minister’s background briefings.”