Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox Allies Reject His Call for Early Elections

Netanyahu and Minister Kahlon meet alone for first time since the public broadcasting crisis erupted, but reach no agreement.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Arye Dery in the Knesset in 2015.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Leaders of coalition ultra-Orthodox parties told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they object to any effort to move up elections, as he threatened to do earlier this month. Netanyahu is facing a coalition crisis over his desire to scuttle the plan to close the existing Israeli Broadcasting Authority and replace it with a new public broadcaster, Kan. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is insisting on launching the new broadcaster on April 30 as scheduled.

Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism and Arye Dery of Shas told Netanyahu at the meeting of coalition party heads on Sunday that they are against sending Israelis to the polls, according to three sources who were briefed on the discussion.

After the party leaders stated their position, Litzman suggested leaving Netanyahu and Kahlon, the leader of the Kulanu party, alone to hash out their disagreement. Dery remained in the room for another few minutes with Netanyahu and Kahlon and then also left the two, who then met alone for about 15 minutes but reached no agreement.

This was Netanyahu’s and Kahlon’s first one-on-one meeting since the crisis over Kan erupted and the prime minister announced that he had reconsidered a compromise plan with the finance minister that would have seen Kan open on schedule but would have been followed by new legislation giving the government more influence over the new authority. Netanyuahu has threatened to bring forward elections if the matter is not resolved. He and Kahlon are expected to discuss the issue again shortly.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu instructed Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber to complete a draft of a bill that would rehabilitate the IBA and put Kan out of business before it goes on the air. The legislation would also ensure political control over all broadcast media outlets in the country.

On Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” on Saturday, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) debated the issue with Kulanu lawmaker Roy Folkman. Likud is sticking by its position, which opposes Kan going on the air, Bitan said, and if Kahlon doesn’t show flexibility on the matter, elections will take place. Folkman responded that his party would oppose any delay in Kan’s launch. “You can’t change position every week and drive the country crazy,” Folkman said.