Kafe Knesset for March 23

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Bibi is finally back from China but for everyone who is waiting to see how the IBC crisis is going to unfold they might have to wait a bit longer. Netanyahu didn’t take the Chinese air pollution so well, apparently, and has called in sick and cancelled his meetings for the rest of the day. Throughout the week, various surrogates and emissaries tried to reach a solution that would put the PM’s feud with Finance Minister Kahlon to rest, but everyone assumes that the only way to settle te crisis is a one-on-one meeting between them. A meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet, so the suspense continues.

Neither Netanyahu or Kahlon have moved from their opening positions: Netanyahu insists there will be no IBC, and Kahlon insists there will indeed be one. In between, there are a variety of compromises which could play out – merging the IBC into the existing IBA, or the other way round, increasing government supervision over the IBC, or changing the management. The latter option seems to be the one thing Netanyahu and Kahlon agree upon: the resentment towards the IBC managers Eldad Koblantz and Gil Omer. The fact that the two decided to announce the appointment of Geula Even to be the channel’s main news anchor while Kahlon was trying to solve the crisis caused him much anger, a source close to the Finance Minister told Kafe Knesset. “The IBC managers basically shot themselves in the head with the timing of the announcement. They opened a front against the one person who was their ally,” he said. But even if Kahlon and Netanyahu reach an agreement, the Justice Ministry has posed strong objections to many of the proposed solutions and new legislation will have to be crafted – quickly, as the IBC is scheduled to go on air, by law, by the 30th of April.

Meanwhile, the Knesset adjourned for its spring recess, but as any solution to this will likely entail speedy legislation, the MKs are preparing for a rocky vacation. Coalition chairman David Bitan already told some of them that he plans to convene a special recess meeting, but the question remains – what bill will be on the agenda? Will it be a new IBC bill, or will it be a move to dissolve the Knesset and go to early elections? Bibi’s sickness means heads will continue being scratched over that question, at least for the coming hours.

Before boarding the plane back home, Netanyahu broke some positive news, announcing there has been “significant progress” in settlement talks with the White House this week. After Trump special envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit last week, the PM sent his Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz and advisor Jonathan Shechter to DC, to try and reach understandings on the contentious matter, another political bombshell waiting to explode. Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported last night that Greenblatt offered to accept building within settlement blocs and under quotas, but that BB rejected that offer and is still trying to improve the framework. The report was immediately met with right-wing objections, as the Jewish Home party and many members of the Likud will not settle for a restriction to the blocs, reflecting the political constraints Netanyahu is facing. Bezalel Smotrich from the Jewish Home tweeted “It seems like Trump really wants Netanyahu to fall. Weren’t they supposed to be friends?” Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett is on his way to DC himself, to address AIPAC, and mark his first visit in the US in the Trump era. The day after the elections, Bennett was dreaming of a whole new world with the administration, but so far, his dreams seem far from coming true.

Speaking of Bennett, if you were expecting the Bayit Yehudi primary race to heat up, well, sorry to disappoint you. Bennett is not only the front-runner but he is the only person with any name recognition whatsoever. This morning, retired IDF Lt.-Col. Yaakov Lapidot sent out a press release referring to a poll finding that he is the most popular of the non-Bennett candidates. The only problem? He forgot to mention that the survey giving him 43% of the votes is a Twitter poll in which only 14 people voted. Nice try.

The saga of Rabbi Levinstein continues. He is the rabbi whose recent comments about women serving in the IDF sparked outrage. The rabbi received a summons to a hearing at the Defense Ministry on his fitness to educate students in pre-military academies (Mechinot). Earlier this month, Levinstein, the head of the prestigious religious-Zionist Mechina in Eli, said that the army drives women crazy and makes them less Jewish. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called for the academy to be shut down, leading to a public dispute between him and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett said he that he disagrees with Levinstein but accused Liberman of trying to score political points by attacking the flagship religious-Zionist Mechina. In any case, Liberman only has the authority to shut down the much-smaller Hesder program within the Eli Mechina, and this upcoming hearing is to decide whether or not to do that. The only way to save the Hesder program, Liberman said, is for Levinstein to be dismissed.

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