Israel's President Rivlin Labels Netanyahu’s Threat to Call Early Election 'Insane'

Rivlin joins growing list of detractors who think Netanyahu's move over fate of new public broadcasting corporation is misguided.

Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday joined a growing list of ministers and lawmakers opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to call early elections over a dispute about Israel’s new public broadcasting corporation.

In his first public comment on the dispute over Kan – the public broadcasting corporation that is meant to begin operations on April 30 – Rivlin labeled the prime minister’s threat to dismantle the government “insane.”

“The State of Israel is facing far-reaching decisions on security, political and economic issues,” said Rivlin, speaking during a formal visit to Vietnam.

The president also called the crisis within the governing coalition “completely artificial.”

However, Rivlin said the crisis does need resolving, adding that questions over the nature of public broadcasting in Israel do need resolving. But to whip up a coalition crisis to the point of ending the government “is an insane thing,” he said.

MK Avi Dichter (Likud) also joined the dissenting voices on Monday. Dichter is chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and he opened a panel meeting by saying he hopes political momentum can be maintained without everyone getting mired in political issues two years ahead of the next scheduled election.

Several party leaders within the coalition and other Likud lawmakers are equally disturbed by the move, though Netanyahu has been sticking to his guns on the matter.

The compromise currently taking shape is that Kan will start to operate as planned on April 30, but its two heads – CEO Eldad Koblenz and Chairman Gil Omer – will be dismissed and the corporation subjected to government supervision.

Netanyahu is also demanding that a new law be enacted to increase state supervision over all broadcasters.

Coalition members hope to reach final agreements on the matter by Wednesday evening, when Netanyahu returns from his state visit to China.

On Sunday night, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin – in charge of liaison between the government and the Knesset – met with Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad to try to resolve the crisis. At the same time, another top treasury official, Nadav Sheinberger, met with coalition chief David Bitan (Likud).

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Sunday night that leadership must stand firm to the end. Regarding Netanyahu’s claim that he was regretting the establishment of Kan in place of the Israel Broadcasting Authority because he felt sorry for the latter’s employees losing their jobs, Kahlon said he didn’t need lessons in compassion.

“The previous government did to them what it did, and threw the problem onto me,” Kahlon said, speaking at a joint press conference with Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett.

Sources close to Kahlon told Haaretz that the Kulanu chairman has no intention of budging on the new corporation. “He won’t bend,” said one source. “For him it’s a matter of principle. There will be no compromise and the corporation will launch on time.”

Kahlon knows “that if he capitulates to Netanyahu, his entire credibility will be compromised and he won’t be able to function as finance minister any more. Netanyahu won’t let him move,” the source added.