In a moment of smugness, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted he had decided to call for early elections at the end of 2014 due to the attempt to make it illegal to distribute Israel Hayom – the pro-Netanyahu daily owned by Sheldon Adelson – for free.
A bill to that effect was passed by the Knesset in preliminary reading on November 14, with 24 MKs from coalition parties voting in favor.
What drove Netanyahu up the wall at the time was not only the attempt to shut down “his” newspaper, but also the fact that members of his coalition had blatantly broken coalition discipline. Netanyahu has always been something of a control freak. However, his problem is simply that he apparently lacks the skill of inspiring loyalty.
In 2014 Netanyahu declared new elections about a year and eight months after his third government was formed. Now again he seems inclined to hold new elections, a year and 10 months after his current government was formed.
The excuse this time is the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC), which is destined to go on air in just over a month. For several months now Netanyahu has been ranting about the fact that the corporation is going to be an unbalanced body, full of lefties (i.e. enemies of the state, the Jewish People, the Likud and the Netanyahu family). The new corporation was established during the term of the previous government, based on the initiative of then communications minister Gilad Erdan, to replace the old, sullied and inefficient Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA).
For years attempts were made to reform the IBA, which had too many tenured employees, wasted too many resources and even suffered from petty corruption.
The reforms failed, largely due to militant workers’ committees in the IBA.
Erdan, with the support of Netanyahu, had reached the conclusion that even though there were many loyal and highly professional employees in the IBA, and that many of its TV and especially radio programs were of the highest professional quality, there was no alternative but to restart public broadcasting in the form of a new organization, that would absorb several hundred IBA employees but add a lot of “new blood” as well. The new corporation was designed to start a new era of neutral, efficient public broadcasting, at much lower cost to the taxpayer than the IBA.
This meant sending most of the IBA’s employees into early retirement, and the younger ones into unemployment.
However, Netanyahu’s “sudden” discovery of this fact, which has led him to demand that the IPBC be disbanded and the IBA resuscitated, smacks of extreme cynicism. Netanyahu has co-opted the hapless IBA employees in his relentless battle against the IPBC, even though their fate has nothing to do with the reasons that he wants to kill it.
I don’t know whether Netanyahu really believes the IPBC will be predominantly left-wing or whether he has concluded that though it is designed to be as politically balanced as possible in the Israeli reality, its rightwing elements will not necessarily be pro-Netanyahu.
Under these circumstances the old IBA is preferable to him, especially since now that he has expressed support for the struggle of its protesting employees, if the IBA survives these employees are likely to be more partial toward him than in the past.
But why should all this embroilment lead to new elections? Basically because Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is committed to closing down the IBA and getting the IPBC started, primarily (but not exclusively) because – contrary to what the protesting IBA employees are saying – the latter will cost the state treasury in the long run much less.
Kahlon is also furious about Netanyahu zigzagging on the issue, and over Netanyahu’s inclination to throw the blame for the hundreds of IBA employees being thrown out of their jobs on him. For Netanyahu the threaten of new elections is at least partly directed against Kahlon, since all opinion polls show Kulanu losing seats if elections were to be held today.
However, Netanyahu apparently wants new elections (which Israel needs like a hole in the head) not only in connection with the IPBC affair, but also in order to try to delay the legal proceedings that will apparently be opened against him on various charges. He is also once again experiencing problems with coalition discipline, even among his own backbenchers, as the extreme means being used by coalition chairman David Bitan against Likud MKs allegedly in breach of coalition discipline demonstrates.
It is, however, unlikely that Netanyahu will manage to get early elections – largely because except for the Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid none of the existing political parties are likely to gain from such elections. There is opposition to early elections also among the Likud MKs, largely because a dozen or so of them are unlikely to be reelected.
However, even if early elections are not held, and the IPBC starts operating on April 30, Netanyahu is preparing a new broadcasting law that will increase direct government (i.e. political) control not only of the corporation, but of the electronic media in general.
If only Netanyahu would concentrate as much energy and thought on Israel’s numerous unresolved social problems as he does on how to ensure that the media will best serve his political survival – dayenu. But enough is enough.