Telecoms Have Received Scant Attention From Netanyahu as Communication Minister

Most of his ministry activities have dealt with the broadcasting sector.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the inauguration of the Israeli Innovation Center in July.
Yair Saguy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has devoted little time or energy to the communcations portfolio that he holds, according to material in the possession of TheMarker. In addition to serving in the country’s top job, Netanyahu is also formally the country’s foreign minister, regional cooperation minister and communications minister.

Although TheMarker has only received information relating to about half-a-year of Netanyahu’s term at the Communications Ministry, he did not meet with communications companies and was not involved in the telecommunications sector during the period in question.

The information is based on a list of Netanyahu’s meetings obtained by TheMarker through a freedom of information request submitted to the Communications Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. The material provided only relates to the period from May 2015, when Netanyahu’s current government was formed, until October 2015. With respect to most of the meetings, details are lacking. The explanation for that was that no minutes were kept indicating what was discussed and who attended.

But even in light of what was provided, Netanyahu’s lack of attention to the country’s communications firms raises some questions. The meetings that Netanyahu did hold as communications minister related for the most part to the broadcasting sector, particularly the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is due to be replaced by a new state agency.

The list that TheMarker received doesn’t show any meetings between Netanyahu in his communications role and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, which is a dominant player in the country’s communications sector. A conflict of interest statement that Netanyahu recently signed states that the two do meet from time to time, but the prime minister deems them “friendly” meetings, implying that they were of a social nature.

Netanyahu has refused to submit information on when he met with Elovitch. A lawyer, Shachar Ben-Meir, has filed an administrative petition seeking disclosure of the information, on the grounds that the meetings have implications regarding Netanyahu’s conduct in the communications sector.

In response to a request for information about Netanyahu’s stance on issues facing the communications sector, the Communications Ministry issued a general response: “The prime minister as communications minister delineates the ministry’s policy and the ministry director general [Shlomo Filber] carries it out.”

The statement added that the two speak on a regular basis and that Netanyahu’s policies relating to the telecommunications market have been disclosed in the past. With respect to the landline sector, the reform plan developed in 2012 by then-communications minister Moshe Kahlon is being pursued, the statement said, and with respect to the cellular market, emphasis is being placed on ensuring the construction of 4th generation (4G) infrastructure by service providers and on maintaining competition.

“Recently the prime minister transferred authority regarding Bezeq and Hot [the cable service provider] to minister Tzachi Hanegbi,” the statement added. (Responsibility relating to Bezeq was transferred due to Netanyahu’s personal relationship with Elovitch).

Based on the information provided, TheMarker has found that Netanyahu held an average of 2.5 meeting per month related to telecommunications and broadcasting. A full-time communications minister is likely to hold a number of meetings relating to the sector on a daily basis.