Kafe Knesset for May 9

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Erdogan is at it again: Turkish President Erdogan opened his big mouth again and is back to badmouthing Israel and its policies. Erdogan issued a series of provocative statements, blasting “racist” Israel and calling on Muslims to regularly visit the Temple Mount / Al Aqsa compound and that “each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry immediately denounced the statement as “baseless slander” and the Director General Yuval Rotem conveyed Israel’s discontent in a phone call with the Turkish ambassador to Israel this morning. At the same time, Israel made an attempt to lower the flames and reduce the risk of further escalation. Public Security minister Gilad Erdan said that “Erdogan’s words have no basis in reality” and said that he’s “igniting flames that harm the security of Jerusalem’s residents and visitors.” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of the Likud said that “Erdogan’s harsh incitement will not change the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of Israel. The Temple Mount will remain open to all religions, under Israeli sovereignty.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat invited Erdogan to visit Israel and see for himself that “Jerusalem is more free today than it was during the 400 years of Turkish rule.”

Less than a year after the controversial reconciliation agreement was signed between Jerusalem and Ankara, Erdogan’s latest attack on Israel prompted some of those who opposed that agreement to speak up and say “I told you so.” Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that “Erdogan aspires to a Muslim Brotherhood hegemony in the Middle East and is working to Islamize Europe. This should be surprising only for those who ignore the facts.” Former Likud minister, Gideon Saar, who just recently announced he is back in the political field, gave a round of radio interviews in which he stressed that the reconciliation agreement was a mistake and that the days of friendship with Turkey will not return as long as Erdogan is in power. “Whoever thinks this is a one-time thing is wrong. Erdogan will not be a partner, he is an ally of Hamas,” Saar said. On the other hand, Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant, who voted in favor of the Turkish reconciliation agreement, brushed off the criticism. “The fact that Erdogan occasionally makes inflammatory statements is a matter of his political interests. I think the Turks have other interests – Israeli gas and Israeli tourism.”

Preparing for Friedman: Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz sat down in DC yesterday with new US ambassador David Friedman for a chat before Friedman embarks on his trip to Israel. During the meeting, also attended by Ambassador Ron Dermer, Katz presented the two regional and economic initiatives he has been pushing – the artificial island off the coast of Gaza and a regional rail network that will connect Israel, Jordan and the Gulf States. Katz told Kafe Knesset that he “was very impressed by my meeting with Ambassador Friedman, by his knowledge, vision and sincere concern for the security and well-being of the State of Israel. I am convinced that his activities in Israel will strengthen and deepen the historic alliance between the United States and Israel. I am happy to find a partner to promote regional economic initiatives that will change the reality for the benefit of all the countries of the region and the Palestinian residents.” Today Katz is expected to present the initiatives to members of the National Security Council, a meeting which Jason Greenblatt is also expected to attend.

Will striking Foreign Ministry workers interfere with Trump’s trip? The advance team for Trump’s visit will arrive on Friday and remain in Israel until the President’s arrival on May 22nd. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry workers’ union has officially announced a labor dispute, threatening to disrupt the upcoming presidential visit. The union is protesting a two month delay in the implementation of a new wage agreement with the Finance Ministry. All union employees were instructed today to start a work action on Thursday, specifically demanding a halt to all the activities and preparations ahead of Trump’s visit. These work stoppage items include writing position papers and participation in preparatory meetings. With only 13 days left until Air Force One lands in Ben Gurion Airport, the work action could pose a big challenge and the union is hoping that the ultimatum could speed up the activation of the new wage agreement.

Everyone gets a radio station! No, the public broadcasting drama is not over yet. The final vote is scheduled for tomorrow and, theoretically, that should be the end of it, but G-d only knows if that is true. Meanwhile, the special legislative committee working on the bill dealing with the launch of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, set to replace the Israel Broadcasting Association on May 15, is hard at work. Yesterday’s meeting lasted until 4 a.m. today and started up again at 2 p.m. But don’t let the long hours fool you into thinking this is such serious business. The whole thing is basically a circus. The highlight was when half the parties in the coalition basically staked a claim to radio stations. First, Yisrael Beytenu complained about not enough resources being allocated to Russian-language radio. Somehow, we ended up with a new Shas-run haredi radio station and Bayit Yehudi got a newsroom for the “Tradition Radio,” which features Judaism-related content, but is not run by Shas. Meanwhile, coalition chairman David Bitan is trying to push for a further delay of the IBC launch, but the Finance Ministry and Kulanu won’t stand for it – every two weeks it’s postponed costs the government another 17 million shekels.

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