All You Need to Know About the Coalition Crisis
What is the difference between the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority and the new public broadcasting corporation?
The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), Israel’s state broadcasting network, was established by the Knesset in 1965. The Authority currently operates two television channels and eight radio stations.
Over the years, however, the cost of operating the IBA skyrocketed and in March, 2014, then-Communication Minister Gilad Erdan set up a commission to present recommendations to make the Authority more cost-effective. The commission, headed by TV producer Ram Landes, confirmed that the Authority was costing the state an exorbitant sum of public funds, had been maintaining unrealistic labor agreements, and had an outdated archive system. The commission recommended shutting the IBA and replacing it with a reinvigorated and more politically balanced broadcasting entity. The commission recommended the creation of three separate television channels—one in Hebrew, one in Arabic, and one for children. Although some employees were scheduled to be kept on the payroll by the new corporation, most were slated to be laid off and compensated by the state.
Following the publication of the report, Erdan and then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid proposed creating a new public broadcasting corporation, and the Knesset ratified the bill 45 to 11 with one abstention in 2014. The new legislation amended the Broadcasting Authority Law and stipulated the annulment of the television license fee by March, 2015 and the establishment of a new public broadcasting corporation by October, 2016.
Why is Prime Minister Netanyahu so opposed to the new arrangement?
Netanyahu originally supported the creation of a new public broadcasting corporation for many of the reasons cited above. More recently, however, he has expressed extreme opposition to the new body, largely because of provisions included in the bill that would allow it to operate outside the government’s purview. Corporation CEO Eldad Koblentz and Chairman Gil Omer insist that the new broadcaster be an apolitical and independent body and have resisted attempts by politicians to influence news coverage by the corporation. The removal of Koblentz and Omer have been central demands for Netanyahu.
So what is the coalition crisis all about?
Some observers have accused Netanyahu of orchestrating the crisis in order to deflect attention from a series of police investigations into allegations of corruption. While the accuracy of those accusations may be arguable, there is more to the crisis than that.
As part of the coalition agreement reached in mid-2015, all government ministers agreed to defer to Netanyahu on matters of communications. Nevertheless, Finance Minister Kahlon has now refused Netanyahu’s demand to annul the new broadcasting corporation, prompting the prime minister to threaten to disband the government and Knesset in favor of early elections.
Netanyahu’s relationship with the communications ministry also bears relevance. Netanyahu served as communications minister for most of the past two years, resigning only when ordered to do so by the Supreme Court. He appointed long-time ally Tzachi Hanegbi as acting communications minister in his stead, and the two have drafted a new bill aimed at creating a council to govern television and radio broadcasts and to replace the existing Broadcasting Corporation Council. Representatives of the communications and finance ministries and the establishment of new channels will require the authorization of the communications minister.
Netanyahu finally bowed to coalition pressure last Thursday, agreeing to open the new corporation on April 30 in exchange for a promise from Kahlon to support the new communications bill.
On Saturday, however, Netanyahu retracted the agreement and threatened to call early elections should the finance minister refuse to cancel the corporation. Netanyahu explained his change of heart after meeting IBA employees, saying that he could not allow 1000 people to lose their jobs just before Passover. He also said that the cost of operating the IBA would be thousands of shekels lower than the costs incurred by the corporation.
So where do things stand now?
As of this writing (Monday evening), it appears that all the relevant parties are committed to reaching an agreement that would prevent early elections. Several individuals have floated drafts of outlines for a compromise that would bridge the gap between Kahlon and Netanyahu. Kahlon did meet with Opposition Leader Yitzhak Herzog (Zionist Camp) over the weekend to discuss the possibility of forming an alternative coalition to replace the current government, but coalition members Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman as well as President Reuven Rivlin and others have called on both sides to “be responsible” and to avoid plunging the country into a “needless” election campaign.