Kafe Knesset for Feb. 9
Netanyahu is back at the Blair House next week. A PMO official confirmed the White house has invited PM Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sarah, and senior members of his entourage to enjoy close hospitality and stay at the official guest house during the visit to Washington DC. Netanyahu has stayed in the Blair house in the past, but in his recent visits to DC, against the backdrop of the tensions with the Obama administration, he stayed in hotels, and renewing the tradition sends exactly the message Netanyahu wants to convey – a new page with the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, ahead of the much-anticipated visit, it appears Bibi might have to give up one of his favorite jobs – the communication portfolio. For months, Netanyahu has insisted on keeping the Communications Ministry under his reign, but the recent police revelations about his connections with the media might prompt him to pass it to one of the Likud ministers. Last month, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog filed a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding Netanyahu be suspended from his role as communications minister, in the wake of what his direct ties with media stakeholders and what appears to be a conflict of interest with Arnon Milchan. The common assumption in the political system is that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will find it hard to defend Netanyahu in the appeal and will ask him to give up the communications ministry, regularly referred to as “Bibi’s Baby” as it enables him influence and control over the future media landscape in the state.
Netanyahu might not be happy to pass on the portfolio, but Likud ministers are already out to grab it. Culture minister Miri Regev, one of Netanyahu’s most loyal confidants, is pushing to get the job and is planning to stir up the media elites just as she has rattled the culture world on the past 2 years or so with endless provocative statements and actions. Another leading candidate is Tzahi Hanegbi, currently serving as Regional Cooperation Minister, also considered close to Netanyahu and extremely trustworthy. The ultimate test will probably be the loyalty test, as this is one of the most important issues on Netanyahu’s agenda.
The media might be Bib’s favorite enemy, but he has also revived his attack on another veteran target of his government- left wing NGOs, primarily Breaking the silence. Netanyahu has announced he intends to promote new legislation that will ban foreign government funding for organizations but has also launched a diplomatic war on these organizations. Earlier this week, the PM told his British counterpart, Theresa May, he expects the UK to review its contributions to human right NGOs and raised a similar demand while meeting Belgium PM Charles Michelle, who was visiting Israel this week. A day after the meeting, when Netanyahu learned that Michelle had met with representatives of Breaking the Silence and Betzelem, another popular target for right-wing politicians, he reacted with fury and summoned the Belgium Ambassador for a reprimand.
Netanyahu wasn’t the only one bashing Breaking the Silence this week. Culture minister Regev targeted a Jerusalem gallery which was slated to host the group for a lecture Wednesday night, prompting mayor Nir Barkat to issue an eviction notice for the venue after the event, which was packed, probably following the free publicity the controversy sparked. Barkat said that the eviction notice “has nothing to do with freedom of expression, but due to the gallery ignoring municipal rules”. Regev, however, called on Barkat not to be deterred by the “left wing media attack”: “A gallery that serves a stage for defaming IDF soldiers should not be supported by the state. Freedom of expression is an important value in every society but it has nothing to do with governmental and public funding policy”.