Analysis

With Kara as Communications Minister, Netanyahu Expected to Continue to Hold Sway

Senior Likud officials surprised about Kara’s appointment, and Knesset sources say that some of those who declined the Communications Ministry did so out of concern that Netanyahu would continue to set policy there

Ayoub Kara and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 13, 2017.
Yitzhak Harari / Knesset Spokesperson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Likud party MK Ayoub Kara as minister of communications will ensure Netanyahu’s continued influence over government communications policy, political sources said.

Likud sources said they believed Kara was a comfortable choice for Netanyahu, who until recently served as communications minister himself in addition to his roles as prime minister and foreign minister. The sources added that Kara is not expected to pursue his own independent policy and would feel completely committed to Netanyahu.  The Knesset is expected to approve the appointment of Kara, a Druze, at a session on Monday.

In the communications sector, Netanyahu’s recent attention has focused on the new public broadcasting corporation, known as Kan, which went on the air on May 15 and was established by legislation to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority, an agency that was accused of being bloated and wasteful.

Ultimately, however, Netanyahu came out against Kan and sought to have it shut down before it went on the air.  When Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon objected to the prime minister’s stance, the two ironed out a compromise by which Kan would go on the air, but without news programming which would instead be spun off to a separate public news entity. However, the High Court has halted plans for a separate public news broadcaster and Kan is currently broadcasting news content.

When Netanyahu resigned as communications minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, the regional cooperation minister, was appointed to the post for a three-month period which expired last week. Due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last week, the announcement of the appointment of a permanent communications minister was deferred until this week.

Senior Likud officials were surprised about Kara’s appointment. As recently as Friday, they expected Hanegbi – who has shown loyalty to Netanyahu – to be appointed if Tourism Minister Yariv Levin rejected the post, which he did.

The tourism minister was not the only cabinet member to decline the Communications Ministry. Three months ago, Yuval Steinitz, the national infrastructure, energy and water minister, also turned the prime minister down. And Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who had previously expressed interest in the job, recently stated that it no longer interested her after the establishment of the new public broadcasting corporation.

Knesset sources said some of those who declined the Communications Ministry did so out of concern that Netanyahu would continue to set policy there. For his part, however, in an interview last week on Channel 2, Hanegbi expressed indignation at not being offered a permanent appointment as communications minister.

Two police investigations of Netanyahu are underway – one over whether he improperly accepted expensive gifts from businesspeople, and another over whether he agreed to limit the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from rival Yedioth Ahronoth. At the beginning of the year, the Supreme Court demanded that Netanyahu explain why he did not resign or recuse himself from the Communications Ministry during the investigations.

Kara was in Ecuador over the weekend and received news of his appointment by phone. He recently said that with the formation of the current Netanyahu government in 2015, he was promised a ministerial appointment as soon as a position became available. Likud sources said that several months ago Kara’s pressure got him a cabinet post in the Prime Minister’s Office, but without any practical responsibilities.

Kara has been involved in several controversies, including one following the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s adoption of a resolution in October that ignored Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount. Kara, who was in Italy later that month, after an earthquake struck north of Rome, claimed that the earthquake was divine retribution for the UNESCO vote. A senior Israeli official noted that the Italians understood his statement as criticism of Italy for not voting against the UNESCO resolution, opting instead only to abstain from the vote. The Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned Kara’s comments.

In 2013, as a Master’s degree student at Tel Aviv University, Kara was required to repeat two courses after allegedly submitting work that he had not written.

With reporting by Barak Ravid and Tali Heruti-Sover.