Kafe Knesset for March 21

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The crisis is still on: Political crises in Israel tend to be hectic and chaotic, but they usually last somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. The current coalition crisis over the Israeli Broadcasting Authority vs. the Israeli Broadcast Corporation is now entering its fourth day. The crisis is not likely to be resolved until Thursday when Netanyahu returns from his visit to China.. In Israel, Netanyahu’s surrogates – Likud minister Yariv Levin, who’s filling in as prime minister in Netanyahu’s absence, and Shlomo “Momo” Filber, director of the Communication Ministry – are attempting to bridge the differences between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon, but in Beijing, so far, it appears there is no room for compromise. Levin and Filber are trying to work out a creative solution that would merge the IBC and the existing IBA – whatever it takes to bring the sides closer.

Kahlon has explained his objection to closing the IBC based upon budget considerations, and does not necessarily rule out forming a new broadcasting body based on the merging the IBA and IBC. But then comes the question of the name, and how exactly is the merger going to happen: will the IBC be merged into the IBA, or the other way round? Will it be called the IBC or the IBA, or maybe even a brand new name? Meanwhile, legal restraints are creating doubts over the possibility of any compromise, and Netanyahu’s new bill, which is supposed to give the government unprecedented control over all broadcast channels in Israel – including the IBA – is facing Justice Ministry objections.

The Geula factor: The IBC crisis, by the way, already has a new name – “the Geula Crisis” – named for the chief anchor on the new channel, Geula Even. Even’s appointment was announced yesterday, in the midst of the mediation attempts. Yedioth Aharanoth coined the term Geula Crisis this morning with a widespread front page headline and photo of Even. Even, aside from being a gifted and talented journalist also happens to be married to Netanyahu’s rival, former Likud minister Gideon Saar, considered one of the biggest enemies on Balfour Street. The appointment is widely considered one of the reasons Netanyahu’s aides dismissed reports about a settlement last night, and clarified that Bibi still insists that the IBC will not go on the air. But Kahlon also didn’t like the timing of the announcement, and is fuming at IBC directors for breaking the news while he is trying to save the channel.

So the only way out of this mess seems to be a one-on-one meeting between Netanyahu and Kahlon and that cannot even occur for a few more days.

A source close to Netanyahu told Kafe Knesset: “All the mediators running around right now are just the prelude. Bibi and Moshe have to settle this between themselves.” A senior minister summed up the political game like this: “Netanyahu and Kahlon are in a zero sum game right now. One of them will end this crisis as a loser, because the IBC will either go on air, or not. If Kahlon caves he will lose all credibility and will be the joke of the Knesset. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has climbed up a very high tree – so this is basically a game of chicken.”

Remember the Labor leadership race? It’s easy to forget, but while the Knesset is busy with election speculations and assessing how serious Bibi’s threat actually is, the Zionist Union, as usual, is engaged in another internal fight. Labor leadership candidate Erel Margalit came out against Herzog’s plan to establish an alternative government, stating that the opposition should gain the public’s confidence in an election, and not “do political moves with no public mandate. The Labor party should lead the left camp back to the leadership with a loud and clear voice. Not through Liberman in the coalition, not through Kahlon as prime minister, and not through political stunts,” he told Army Radio this morning. This comment from Margalit prompted a harsh response from Herzog. “Margalit should get over his ego and not interfere with the endless night and day efforts to replace Netanyahu. This is a matter for serious and responsible people who put the country’s interest first.”

Put away your wallets: If there’s an election coming up, the coalition just made sure that it will be more difficult to clandestinely contribute to political campaigns from abroad. On Monday night, the coalition passed the so-called “V15 Law,” a ban on Super PACs.. The new legislation limits donations to “election activities” outside of a political party, and requires that all such contributions be reported to the State Comptroller. Donations from abroad cannot comprise more than one-third of funds raised and cannot reach over NIS 600,000 ($165,536.77). Election activities include creating voter databases, transporting voters to polling place and asking people to vote for or against a list either directly or through advertising. The bill was inspired by V15, an organization active in the last election that encouraged people not to vote for the Likud, and was funded by American Jews like Daniel Lubetzky and S. Daniel Abraham. Netanyahu strongly backed the bill, proposed by Likud MK Yoav Kisch. Of course, Netanyahu receives donations from abroad, but not in the manner that is covered by the new law.

Bye, bye Barghouti: BDS founder Omar Barghouti, who lives in Acre (Akko) and is a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University, despite encouraging others to boycott Israel, was arrested for tax evasion on Monday. According to Globes, he didn’t report around $700,000 he made in the past decade as director of Ramallah’s National Computing Resources, a Palestinian tech company, as well as income from his lucrative speaking tours and book royalties earned in the US. Police said they found transaction records in Barghouti’s home corroborating the allegations.

Admittedly, most MKs don’t seem to give BDS much thought – BDS is far more successful in harassing Diaspora Jews and musicians planning to perform in Tel Aviv than it is in its stated goal to hurt Israel as a way to affect change – but those who are involved in the battle against boycotts rejoiced. Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren tweeted: “If not for seeking our destruction, may BDS head Omar Barghouti, like gangster Al Capone before him, rot in prison for massive tax fraud.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose portfolio includes combatting boycotts, told Kafe Knesset on Tuesday: “The ongoing investigation into Barghouti’s tax evasion is not related to his BDS activities. As an Israeli resident and a student at an Israeli university, Barghouti enjoys all the benefits and freedoms of Israel’s democracy, including socio-economic benefits and the freedom to call for the destruction of the Jewish State. Like any other resident, he is required to pay taxes. As to whether he engaged in criminal tax evasion- that is for the courts to decide.”

As if the Western Wall wasn’t contentious enough: Here comes the newest chapter in the Kotel controversy – a bill to cancel the government’s plan to create a pluralistic section at the holy site. Likud’s David Amsalem teased the bill months ago, and on Monday night, he announced that he submitted it with a subtweet to the Reform Movement: “The Kotel bill establishes that the current situation will remain as it is. Reforms should be done in a canning factory, not in the Jewish religion.” The Western Wall outline has long been stalled because Netanyahu’s haredi coalition partners won’t allow it to move forward. Could this bill be the thing that finally buries the plan?


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