Kafe Knesset for March 14
Bibi and Sarah’s day in court: Dozens of journalists and cameramen gathered this morning outside the Tel Aviv Court to accompany the PM and his wife Sarah to a hearing in a libel suit the couple filed against journalist Yigal Sarna. The Netanyahus are suing Sarna, who writes for Yedioth Aharonot, for over $75,000 as a result of a Facebook post he wrote last year, in which he described an incident in which the PM’s motorcade stopped in the middle of the main highway and Netanyahu, according to Sarna’s post, was kicked out of the car by his wife.
Netanyahu tried to avoid today’s testimony and asked the court to postpone the hearing due to his “many international political tasks” but the judge rejected his petition and obliged him to arrive in court today. Nevertheless, Bibi and Sarah succeeded in avoiding the awkward photos of them on the bench as they entered the courtroom, hand-in-hand, only after the judge began the hearing and the cameras were already outside the hall.
Netanyahu was accompanied by his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and the family media advisor Nir Hefetz. The couple’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, started out by questioning Sarna, claiming that he has no evidence of the events he described in the post, accusing him of trying to “oust Netanyahu” and confronting him with various past quotes to prove he is “obsessed with the couple.” Then, Netanyahu took the stand, insisting that everything that Sarna described “never happened and is a total lie.” His testimony lasted 23 minutes, and judging by the tweets coming from the reporters inside the courtroom, BB was well prepared for the show and engaged in back and forth comments during the cross-examination. “It’s outrageous that he suggested that we hurt security and order, and even more that he claimed my wife controls the Israeli security service,” Netanyahu blasted Sarna, before Sarah herself took the witness stand. “New media today is very popular and as influential and strong as what I call classic journalism. Facebook is everything for the young generation,” Sarah explained. “We are being slaughtered by the media. If I would sue over every lie that slandered my name in the last 20 years I would spend all my days in court. I choose a case once in a while,” she said.
Smotrich makes a move: Meanwhile, if the court appearance wasn’t enough to keep the Netanyahus up at night, the Jewish Home played an overnight political maneuver. After postponing the debate over the contentious Maaleh Adumim bill last week, MK Bezalel Smotrich, one of the two co-sponsors of the legislation which seeks to apply Israeli sovereignty and law over the West Bank city, resubmitted it and was preparing for a preliminary vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this morning. Netanyahu has been trying to postpone this bill for weeks, but has not opposed it publicly, preferring to convey discrete messages to its authors that the timing just isn’t right. This time, he sent coalition whip David Bitan to convince the Jewish Home to agree to a three month delay, and only this morning Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennet announced he has agreed to withdraw the legislation and postpone it again. Starting next week, the Knesset will be out for its Passover break, so the bill likely to be shelved until May. But Bennett and the Jewish Home are not raising a white flag and they intend to push this bill – and other annexation legislation – with full force after the Knesset’s recess.
Ghattas out? The Knesset held its first-ever impeachment hearing – but no vote – in the House Committee today. The issue is whether to impeach MK Basel Ghattas on the grounds of supporting a terrorist organization. Ghattas was caught smuggling cell phones and documents to terrorists in prison in December. Yesterday, Ghattas sent a letter to his colleagues asking that the proceedings be stopped because he is negotiating a plea bargain. Ghattas refused to attend the Knesset hearing. Ghattas’ request was originally rebuffed, but when the Attorney-General’s representative said that the plea bargain negotiations will not last past Thursday and any deal the A-G’s office will reach would include Ghattas’ resignation from the Knesset, House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) agreed to wait and see what happens before holding a vote.
If the plea bargain falls through, Ghattas is unlikely to be removed from the Knesset by his fellow lawmakers, because impeachment requires a vote of three-fourths of the Knesset. Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who spearheaded the efforts against Ghattas, struggled to get the 71 MK signatures (out of 120) needed to initiate the proceedings.
When the impeachment law passed last year, it faced criticism that it would only be used against Arab MKs. Elkin responded to those claims in Tuesday’s hearing, saying: “This isn’t about an Arab MK, it’s about an MK who smuggled phones to terrorists. If you’re saying all Arab MKs [do that], that’s unfortunate.”
The seemingly-endless saga of Israeli public broadcast continues: Viewers of the Israel Broadcast Authority’s nightly news got a surprise last night. Several IBA workers interrupted the anchor to plead with PM Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to save 1,000 of its employees from losing their jobs when the IBA is closed and is replaced with the IBC – Israel Broadcast Corporation, known in Hebrew as “Kann.” IBC will begin activities on April 30. This morning, the Histadrut Labor Union led a strike in solidarity with IBA workers in all Health Ministry facilities. Histadrut chairman Avi Nissankorn, who is currently battling Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich for his position, called on Netanyahu and Kahlon to negotiate with him. If the IBA closes and the IBC opens on time, it will be the culmination of a years-long saga replete with mutual recriminations between Netanyahu and the Likud, on the one hand, and the media on the other.