Kafe Knesset for March 16
War and peace: Another coalition crisis flamed out in less than one day, with multiple ministers going from a state of war against one another – to getting along again. Last night, coalition whip David Bitan hosted a social evening for the coalition’s MKs, with a meal in a wedding hall and a routine by a well-known stand-up comedian, but the festivities were overshadowed by hostilities, foremost of which was the one between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the Israel Broadcast Corporation (IBC).
A quick recap: The IBC is meant to replace the existing Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA) and go on the air on April 30. Netanyahu’s previous government passed a law to shut down the IBA and establish the IBC, because numerous efforts to make the IBA more efficient failed. Then, after the IBC made a series of left-wing hires, Netanyahu changed his mind. This reversal by the PM occurred despite the hiring of a few well-known right-wing people at the IBC, as well. Kahlon, however, said the government will lose too much money by backtracking and also mumbled a few words about freedom of the press. This back-and-forth squabble has flared up several times since last summer. Netanyahu has stepped up the rhetoric in recent days as soon-to-be-unemployed IBA workers held protests.
Last night, at the coalition event, Netanyahu dropped a bomb and called for Kahlon to postpone the IBC’s establishment by six months. Establishing the IBC “was my mistake, let’s fix it,” Netanyahu said. “Hundreds of workers, some experienced veterans, are going home…These workers said they are willing to do what they can to cut costs.” Finance Ministry sources commented that Netanyahu is trying to kiss up to the protesting workers, after he was the one who put them in this situation to begin with.
Today, Kahlon made it clear that he was not going to let Netanyahu’s comments stand: “There is tension, and in our relations, how do the kids say it? Kahlon and Netanyahu are over.” Still, the Finance Minister said he is working on finding a middle ground, and announced that he agreed to the Histadrut labor union’s proposal for at least another 100 IBA workers to join the IBC.
Things got so bad that Shas chairman Arye Deri threatened to leave the government today – even though he’s not fighting with anyone in particular: “I won’t stay in a government where everyone is trying to take each other out. If they don’t come to their senses, it’s better to go to an election.”
Within a couple of hours of making those comments, Deri talked Netanyahu and Kahlon off the ledge. Netanyahu agreed to have the IBC open as scheduled on April 30, but not without a price. In exchange, Kahlon’s Kulanu party will vote in favor of a controversial bill that Netanyahu is promoting in his capacity as communications minister that will create a centralized media regulation body.
A dispute that hasn’t been resolved yet: In the framework of the all-out war within the coalition, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are squabbling, too. It all began last week, when Channel 2 News broadcast a recording of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of the prestigious religious-Zionist Mechina (military preparatory academy) in Eli disparaging women who serve in the IDF, saying “They go in Jewish, but they’re not Jewish at the end. Their entire value system gets mixed up.” In response, Liberman told the academy that he will suspend its funding unless Rabbi Levinstein is fired. The media and much of the political sphere bought Liberman’s spin – not realizing that Liberman doesn’t have the authority to suspend the vast majority of the academy’s funding, only that of its small, 15-student hesder program. Bennett, whose portfolio does include the Mechina, said the academy won’t close, and accused Liberman of engaging in petty politics at the expense of IDF soldiers. Bennett pointed to the many illustrious military careers that started at the Mechina in Eli. “The last thing that interests Liberman is female soldiers; he just wants to gain political points off of religious Zionists,” Bennett wrote on Facebook. At the same time, Bennett distanced himself from Levinstein’s comments, saying that while it’s worth discussing male-female relations in the IDF, he values women who do military service, adding that he met his wife in the army, and that the two female Bayit Yehudi MKs served in the IDF. In response, Liberman tweeted: “Bennett is defending those that want to turn Israel into Iran. We won’t allow it. In Israel, women are equal to men and military service is for all.”
Gallantry? Or politics as usual: Bennett got a surprising vote of support from Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, of Kahlon’s Kulanu party. For such a smiley guy, Kahlon has a lot of adversaries, and Gallant is one of them. The minister, a former a senior IDF officer and a scandal-plagued candidate for Chief of Staff, hasn’t gotten along with Kahlon almost from day one and has been eyeing the next Likud primary. Today was another case of him cozying up to the Right and the Likud’s many religious voters, releasing a statement to “my friends in arms, the religious Zionists…the best in our country…the bravest of our IDF soldiers” that Levinstein’s words were inappropriate and outrageous, but there should never be sanctions on the Eli Mechina, which deserves respect.
Edelstein makes peace: In this day of coalition feuding, another spat was settled: That between coalition chairman David Bitan and rebellious Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch, both of the Likud, over coalition discipline (see yesterday’s Kafe Knesset for details). Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein mediated on-and-off for five (!!) hours until the two backed off from their ego trips and agreed to try to work together. If Edelstein could get these two to get along, perhaps he could succeed as well in negotiating with the Palestinians.