Netanyahu Retreats, for Now, on His Plan to Shut Broadcast Body

Meeting delayed for a week after Minister Kahlon boycotts it; Netanyahu returning with compromise proposal next week.

Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu, August 14, 2016.
Emil Salman

In a setback to his campaign to scuttle the new public broadcasting corporation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was yesterday forced to cancel a meeting of government coalition party leaders to discuss the issue after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon absented himself.

Sources said Netanyahu would try again next Sunday, this time coming back with a compromise proposal that would keep the corporation alive. However, the new Netanyahu plan would force out the corporation’s top two executives and force it to hire all the employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which it is meant to be replacing.

Political sources said that Kahlon – who is head of Kulanu, Netanyahu’s biggest coalition partner – boycotted both the cabinet meeting as well as the meeting of coalition chiefs because of differences with Netanyahu over the future of the corporation.

Netanyahu has been waging a lengthy campaign to shutter the corporation, called Kan, reportedly out of concerns that it won’t be subject to political interference like the IBA was. Kan said last week it would be ready to go on the air in January, putting pressure on the prime minister to act.

The new corporation would take over IBA’s Channel 1, as well as its array of radio stations with what its backers say will be better programming and at a lower cost than the much disparaged IBA.

Kahlon agreed with Netanyahu several weeks ago that Kan’s launch, which was supposed to take place this month, would be delayed until next April. He is reportedly unhappy that the prime minister is now determined to kill off the corporation altogether.

Kan has already hired hundreds of staff, contracted for programming and rented office space. Treasury sources said yesterday that shutting it and keeping the IBA intact would cost the government 400 million shekels ($103.7 million) annually and would require an additional cut in the state budget.

They said it would also put at risk the 1.7 billion shekels the government is supposed to raise from the sale of IBA’s current facilities in Tel Aviv’s Sarona area and another 700 million shekels from the sale of its headquarters in Jerusalem, neither of which the IBA would turn over if it keeps operating.

The costs are so steep, officials said, that the government would have to approve another across-the-board cut in the 2017-18 budget to cover them.

Treasury officials denied claims by IBA staff that they had agreed salary cuts to keep the authority open. The average salary at the IBA is 26,762 shekels a month, nearly three times the average wage nationwide.

In addition to Kahlon, Naftali Bennett – who is education minister as well as head of the Habayit Hayehudi party – and Interior Minister and Shas party head Arye Dery have both said they oppose closing down Kan.

Knesset sources said yesterday that Netanyahu might try to circumvent them by bringing the issue to the cabinet as proposed legislation, which would force ministers and coalition Knesset members to support it.

However, Netanyahu currently has only the declared support of eight ministers for shuttering Kan, while nine ministers have said they oppose it. Four others are undecided, including the two Yisrael Beiteinu ministers – Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has declared his support for closing down Kan, but said he would reconsider if it requires budget cuts.