Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to review Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in the contentious debate over the public broadcaster and bar him from involvement in any issue relating to communications or the media until “clear limits are determined.”
In a letter to the attorney general, Herzog said that despite Netanyahu’s formal resignation last month from the post of communications minister, “he is exploiting his position as prime minister to continue to enforce highly consequential changes.”
Netanyahu stepped down from the communications ministry amid a High Court petition and a criminal investigation into his alleged collusion with major media outlets.
On Saturday, Netanyahu threatened to call early elections if his coalition refused to cancel reforms that would give state media greater editorial independence.
In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching legislation to close the ailing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replace it with a new broadcasting corporation known in Hebrew as Kan. But Netanyahu, who backed the original legislation, has said in recent weeks that he changed his mind and concluded the new public corporation was a “mistake.”
Herzog said the prime minister’s attempts to control the public broadcaster were “blatant and crude.” Speaking at his weekly Zionist Union faction meeting, he said that Netanyahu had been blinded by his “obsession with the media.”
“The actions of Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days have been neither rational or proportional,” he told his MKs. Herzog said that if Mandelblit did not impose appropriate limits on Netanyahu’s influence over the media, he would “use all the means at his disposal, including legal options” to prevent further involvement.
Netanyahu’s resignation from his auxiliary role as communication’s minister came after Herzog filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding he be suspended from the position over revelations from criminal investigations into alleged collusion between the prime minister and major media outlets.
In one ongoing investigation into the prime minister, known as Case 2000, Netanyahu is believed to have offered the publisher of Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, a curtailing of Yedioth’s pro-Netanyahu rival, Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth.
In the response to the High Court petition, the government said that since Netanyahu has resigned, “the specific circumstances in the petition that relate to him serving as communications minister have now become irrelevant.”