After missing a scheduled government meeting to discuss the proposed closure of the new public broadcasting network Sunday – a move which caused the meeting to be canceled – Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon laid down the law Monday by declaring that he would “veto” any government proposal to accomplish that.
Such a proposal has been made by Likud MK David Bitan, who, with the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, would have the new organization put out of business even before it begins operations January 1st. The Bitan bill would essentially turn the clock back, restoring a pared-down version of the IBA, which would be dependent on government funding without collecting the annual tax that Israelis had long complained about before it was abolished last year.
Bitan and Netanyahu are seeking to close the body down because it has been “infiltrated” by leftists, the MK said. Speaking to Channel Two, Bitan said that “it is very clear to us that this new broadcasting body will be extremely leftist. Already, before broadcasting one word, the head of their economic desk has been spreading insults about Netanyahu on social media, and many of those hired by the body are well known for their leftist views.”
Kahlon had been mum on the controversy until Monday, when he said that he would oppose the closure – because of money, not politics. Shutting down the body would entail buying out the contracts of journalists already hired, and that would cost billions of shekels – money that the state cannot spare, Kachlon said. “According to our coalition agreement, the Prime Minister is in charge of media matters, and that is fine with me. However, that agreement states that I am in charge of outlays over NIS 10 million, and canceling the broadcast network will cost NIS 1.7 billion, not to mention the personal price that will be paid by the people to be sent home. I welcome anyone who wishes to go ahead with this closure to come up with the money to do so first, and then we can talk.”
Kahlon is not the only minister to oppose closure of the body; one of the most vocal opponents of shutting down the new body has been Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett. “Canceling the new program will cost us a billion shekels” in contract buyouts. “Who is going to pay for this, considering all the other expenses – health, education and the rest?” he asked in an interview Sunday.
The move to close the new authority has been much-criticized in the media and among the opposition, with MKs accusing Netanyahu of trying to “choke off public debate and criticism of his policies,” opposition sources said Sunday. “This is an attempt to kill off democracy and imprint the state with the image of Netanyahu.” Sources in the Likud said that Netanyahu intended to enforce coalition discipline on the matter, meaning that all coalition members would have to vote in favor.