New Israeli Public Broadcaster's Fate Is in Kahlon and Bennett’s Hands

Coalition not threatened by Netanyahu’s determined attempt to scrap successor to Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, 2015.
Olivieh Fitoussi

The effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the new public broadcasting agency slated to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority is not expected to force the leaders of two of his coalition partners, Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu and Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, to break up the government over the issue. Both Kahlon, the finance minister, and Bennett, the education minister, oppose Netanyahu’s plan.

The new agency, known as Kan, is not yet on the air but preparations have been underway to have it replace the IBA, which operates Channel 1 television and a number of public radio stations including Reshet Bet, Reshet Gimmel and Kol Hamusica. Despite the denials, Knesset sources have said ultimately an arrangement will be worked out that will enable Netanyahu, who is also communications minister, to dissolve Kan or to strip it of its powers.

Netanyahu will convene a meeting with the heads of his coalition partners Sunday in which he is expected to ask for approval to shut down Kan and leave the IBA in place. The prime minister is "obsessed" with achieving this outcome and is prepared to make concessions to his coalition partners to accomplish the task, sources said. He is also said to be determined to push for approval of a bill proposed by coalition faction chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) that would provide the legislation to carry it out.

Although Finance Ministry staff will present a document projecting that closing Kan will cost the public hundreds of millions of shekels, coalition sources are of the view that this will not stop the prime minister, TheMarker has learned.

No vote is expected at Sunday’s meeting. Netanyahu is initially expected to push back Kan’s on-air debut to April, with the expectation that by then he will be able to convince Kahlon and other opponents to integrate sections of the new agency into the IBA. The IBA is currently in receivership, and once the process of putting it on firmer footing is accomplished, including imposing wage cuts, it would be closed and replaced according to the prime minister’s plan.

Shas party leader Interior Minister Arye Dery is also against the plan, while Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, chairman of United Torah Judaism, is expected to support closing Kan. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has not yet taken a public stance on the matter and sources in his party say he will do so at the relevant time when the matter comes to a vote.

Over the weekend, Kahlon said he had no deal with the prime minister over the closure of Kan in exchange for support for legislation that Kahlon is promoting to impose a special tax on owners of three or more homes. Kahlon’s opposition to the closure of Kan and the IBA’s continued operation is based in part on the cost.

Bennett would like to reach an agreement to prevent the eviction of the residents of Amona and debate on a bill to this end from within Bennet's party will be discussed on Monday in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Lawmakers seem to believe is likely that Bennett will be offered some form of compromise on the matter. He said over the weekend however, that his Habayit Hayehudi party would vote against Netanyahu’s proposal if it comes to a cabinet vote.

Coalition sources have noted that the coalition agreement requires all parties in the government to support communications sector reform. Sources from some parties, including Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu, retort that closing Kan following the closure of the IBA should not be construed as reform.

Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kish (Likud) has said that leaving the IBA in place would save severance pay to laid-off staff and additional funds as it streamlines its operations, but Roy Folkman, the Knesset faction chairman for Kahlon’s Kulanu party, told TheMarker over the weekend that the figures that Likud officials are presenting are not accurate.

On Saturday, Folkman reiterated what he said was Kahlon’s support for Kan on “Meet the Press” on Channel 2. “We want to see independent public broadcasting, which is important for democracy. Closing [Kan] is a red line from Kulanu’s standpoint,” Folkman said.