The Knesset plenum on Wednesday gave its final approval to a two-week delay in launching the new public broadcaster, which was set to begin broadcasting next week.
During a special session interrupting the parliament’s spring recess, 35 lawmakers voted in favor of the postponement in its second and third readings and 28 voted against.
The delay pushes off the broadcaster’s launch date to May 15.
While bills generally take weeks to months to go through the legislative process, the coalition pushed through the three required plenary votes and committee debates in just two days.
Despite having faced numerous delays at the hand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the new broadcaster, formally called “Kan” and widely known as HaTa’agid (the corporation), was finally due to go on air at the end of this month.
But last month, under pressure from Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed to a deal that will strip the new broadcaster of its news division and create a separate broadcast entity to deal with all current affairs offerings.
Kahlon and Netanyahu agreed to the two-week delay in order to facilitate the changes, which represent a significant overhaul of wide-reaching, Likud-led reforms passed in 2014.
Under the deal — which ended a coalition standoff that threatened new elections — Kan will lose its centerpiece news division, for which staff had already been hired ahead of the intended launch on April 30, and the old Israel Broadcasting Authority’s staffers are instead to provide the station’s news in the coming months before a new news department is set up.
The reason for the two-week delay, according to the bill, is to allow the coalition more time to finish writing the legislation to dismantle and then reconstitute the news division. The government has already delayed the launch of the new entity several times.
Opposition lawmakers at the session charged the process was designed to see Netanyahu seize control over the new public news outlet.
“This is how they act in North Korea, when a leader gets up in the morning and says ‘I don’t want him, cut off his head,'” said Zionist Union MK Micky Rosenthal, a former journalist. “The concern here is that Netanyahu wants to influence the news from Jerusalem during the transition period.”
In an unusually personal jab, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon questioned the prime minister’s sanity, suggesting he seek psychological counseling from his wife, Sara.
“Bibi, my brother, your life partner is a psychologist. Turn to her, you probably need help,” he said.
“Commissar Netanyahu sees himself as censor, editor, anchor, and photographer [of the new corporation],” he added.
Representing the government, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin insisted the change was “technical” and maintained the final deal was “not perfect.”
“It’s a compromise, and it is in the nature of compromises that they aren’t perfect,” he said.
Undeterred by the government moves, Kan on Tuesday morning announced several new hires to the news department — even as lawmakers inched closer to shutting it down.