Opposition Plans to Boycott Knesset Session Creating Public News Entity

Parties object to use of emergency rules to push through contentious legislation

Israeli lawmakers attending a vote on a bill at the Knesset, February 6, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The opposition parties are set to boycott a Knesset session on Thursday in advance of the first of three votes on a contentious law that would replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Amid repeated changes to the plans, legislation for the creation of a new public broadcaster for news requires immediate passage if it is to go on the air by May 15 as planned.

The opposition parties said on Wednesday that they would absent themselves from the debate in protest at the expedited rules – normally reserved for emergencies – that are being used to pass the legislation.

The announcement follows objections by opposition leaders who argue that the scheduling of the debate on the evening before the end of the current Knesset recess is an underhanded maneuver that damages the legislative process. They voiced their objections to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The upcoming debate follows sessions last week in which parliament voted to defer the date on which the new broadcasting corporation, known as Kan, goes on the air until May 15. It had been scheduled to go on the air at the end of April.

This legislative wrangling is just the latest in an ongoing drama over the establishment of Kan, which had been due to fully replace the existing public broadcasting agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The issue sparked major political clashes over funding and the extent to which the government would have influence over the new media outlet.

In its latest iteration, Kan will go on the air without a news division, under a deal reached in April between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Netanyahu had been fighting to retain the Israel Broadcasting Authority and to scrap Kan, which had already geared up to broadcast. The prime minister’s opposition was reportedly out of concern that Kan’s news division would be hostile to him and his policies.

Kahlon backed Kan, creating a coalition crisis that was eventually resolved by a compromise: Kan would go on the air on May 15 without a news and public affairs division, which would be spun off to a separate public entity. It is that entity that needs to be created by the legislation to be presented to the Knesset on Thursday.

“It is unacceptable that this government, with the backing of the Knesset speaker [Yuli Edelstein], has time and again been trampling the rules of democracy. The public expects that the Knesset speaker to protect the Knesset from the prime minister’s intoxication with power,” said Merav Michaeli of the opposition Zionist Union.

The Knesset is now due to convene on Thursday evening at 6 P.M. for the first of three votes necessary to pass legislation creating the new public news broadcasting entity in a legislative shortcut. Under the expedited schedule, the Knesset is expected on Thursday to approve the legislation in the first vote, then approve a proposal to convene a special legislative committee on the broadcasting plan.

On Sunday and Monday of next week, the special committee is to finalize legislation so that it can be presented for the two final votes. Final passage is expected on Wednesday, May 10, laying the groundwork for the public news entity to go on the air by the May 15 deadline.

Michaeli asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to extend the timeline for the legislative process to allow for a full 21 days for public comment. That in turn would mean that the new public news entity would not come into being when the other new public broadcasting entity, Kan, is slated to go on the air on May 15.