Kafe Knesset for March 20

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Crisis not averted: Did you think the public broadcasting crisis was behind us? Think again. We are definitely still in crisis mode. Netanyahu is currently in China, celebrating 25 years of Sino-Israeli diplomatic relations. But just before he took off Saturday night he dropped a political bomb and left his confidants to deal with the consequences. “Either the Israel Broadcast Corporation is cancelled – or we will go to elections,” the premier announced on Saturday. This posed a crystal-clear ultimatum to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and backtracked from previous understandings between them. The whole political system was thrown into havoc, and Bibi – well, he got on the plane, leaving everyone back in Israel wondering what exactly he wants. Is he serious about elections? Will he bring down the government because of a public broadcast channel? And why does he keep on picking fights with Kahlon, after making a point of getting close to him last month over a plate of hummus?

A brief summary of the latest events: the Netanyahu-Kahlon clash first emerged on Wednesday evening, when Bibi used the stage at a coalition social event to call on Kahlon to agree to postpone the IBC launch. A day later, after several mediation attempts, Netanyahu and Kahlon agreed that the new broadcast entity would go on air at the end of April, as planned, with enhanced political supervision and regulation. However, over the weekend, Bibi changed his mind. On Friday he met with a group of employees from the existing IBA, the Israeli Broadcast Association, which will be replaced by the IBC, who are set to lose their jobs within 40 days. Netanyahu said he was shocked to hear their “heartbreaking stories” and decided that he is going to give his 8-month-long battle to close the IBC, which he has called “the leftist corporation,” another push. On Saturday afternoon, he summoned over group of trusted Likud ministers –Miri Regev, Tzahi Hanegbi, and Yariv Levin – for a special consultation (enraging Haredi factions, because he violated Shabbat). Netanyahu told the ministers he was dead serious about closing the IBC, willing to go so far as to have an early election over the issue.

Why is Bibi really rocking the boat? Army Radio did a man-on-the-street segment to see whether people knew what the IBC is, and unsurprisingly, most had no idea, let alone why Netanyahu would call an election over it. With the fact that the electorate doesn’t care much about public broadcasting, the punditry floated theories as to the real reason the scent of elections is in the air. The most common theory is about Netanyahu’s investigations, that he is trying to buy time because he thinks the probe will be put on hold during an election, or because he doesn’t plan to quit unless he has to – as in, unless he’s convicted – but it’s better to have an election before an indictment than after one. The other theory is that Trump is pressuring Bibi to “hold back on settlements a bit,” as he said in their joint press conference, and the premier needs a new coalition without Naftali Bennett and Bayit Yehudi to be able to do that. Then there’s the theory that the media is Netanyahu’s mortal enemy, and he really intends to call an election over it. After all, blocking a bill meant to shut down the pro-Netanyahu, Adelson-owned daily Yisrael Hayom, was an element in the decision to call the last early election, in 2015.

Netanyahu is sticking to his story that it’s about the IBC, which he says is all about keeping a cohesive coalition. “A government is based on coalition agreements, and according to the agreements, all of the parties are committed to support Likud decisions on media matters.” Netanyahu told reporters before leaving to China, explaining he was convinced there is no budgetary issue with keeping the IBA and closing the IBC . “Why do we need to send hundreds of families home before Passover?”. But Kahlon didn’t like Netanyahu’s moralizing and has pledged that the IBC is a done deal. “I don’t need anyone to lecture me about compassion. I promise to take care of the IBA employees. No one will be thrown to the streets,” he said yesterday, criticizing Netanyahu for dodging his own responsibilities. “This [decision to close the IBA] happened in the previous government. I was a regular citizen at the time. It’s easy to take credit for the good things but to throw the bad ones on someone else. Leadership means to take full responsibility all along the way.”

While several mediators are trying to find a solution for the crisis and compromise between Bibi and “Moishe,” the IBC announced its appointment of the main news presenter – veteran journalist Geula Even. Even is married to one of Bibi’s rivals, popular former minister Gideon Saar, and the news is not likely to help peacemaking any easier.

Netanyahu might have to reconsider his plans for early elections anyway, as there are loud voices inside his Likud party who have come out against the idea, led by Israel Katz, one of Bibi’s biggest political rivals.

Herzog’s alternative is a non-starter: At the same time, opposition leader Isaac Herzog is also plotting behind the scenes, and has suggested an alternative path – ousting Netanyahu by creating a new coalition using a constructive vote of no-confidence, which enables the Knesset to vote out an incumbent by presenting an alternative coalition led by an alternative candidate. Herzog has talked to Kahlon about the idea, and has started rallying other factions behind the scenes to gather 61 votes to support Kahlon as the alternative PM. But don’t hold your breath. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid has announced that he opposes the move, and without his support it’s not likely to move forward. Lapid, considered the only one around who can challenge Bibi and who has something to gain from early elections, will not rush to crown someone else instead.

Ghattas out, Azbarga, in: Meanwhile, Basel Ghattas of the Joint List tendered his resignation to the Knesset yesterday, as part of his plea bargain for smuggling cell phones, equipment and documents to two people serving prison time for terrorist offenses. Ghattas will also go to prison for two years. The deal interrupted the Knesset’s first-ever impeachment proceedings, after a law passed last year allowing MKs to dismiss their colleagues following hearings and a three-fourths vote. Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who spearheaded the impeachment process, still took credit for the removal of Ghattas even though the impeachment was never completed. Tomorrow, new MK Goumha Azbarga will take Ghattas’ place on the Joint List.

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