Netanyahu uses employee tweet to slam new state broadcaster

Researcher for Broadcasting Corporation suspended after tweeting in support of alleged terrorist; PM slams ‘corporation of the left’

The newly-built control room at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The newly-built control room at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday used a tweet by an Arab employee of the new state-run Broadcasting Corporation to reiterate his opposition to the body, calling it the “corporation of the left.”

The employee, Samah Wattad, 24, a researcher at the body, which has yet to begin broadcasting, was suspended earlier in the day for sharing a tweet from the Palestine Info Center about the death of suspected terrorist Basel al-A’araj, who was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops on March 6.

“What will public broadcasting look like under the corporation?” Netanyahu asked in a Facebook post. “A reporter from the corporation of the left praised a terrorist.”

Israeli security forces claim that A’araj, 31, directed an armed cell that carried out shooting attacks. The offending tweet featured a picture of A’araj and the words “The intellectual is the first to fight and never to give up”

A’araj was a prominent activist in campaigns against Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His killing sparked widespread mourning in Palestinian society as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and among some in Israel. There have also been large protests by Palestinians against the Palestinian Authority, which has been accused of cooperating with Israel over his killing.

Wattad defended herself saying that a retweet is not an endorsement. “How can people in the media ignore the fact that retweet on twitter doesn’t necessarily mean agreement with the content of the tweet,” she tweeted.

The corporation said she was called in for a clarification and later suspended, even though it was a private account.

That did not satisfy Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“You would have expected her to be fired, but she was just suspended. The corporation of the left chooses to give a place to supporters of terrorists,” he wrote.

Netanyahu, who was until recently also communications minister, has been leading a charge to kill the corporation before it even gets going in a long and complicated saga over the future of public broadcast in Israel.

In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching reforms closing the ailing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replacing it with a new broadcasting corporation. It originally called for the establishment of a new broadcaster by March 31, 2015.

The legislation, advanced by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan, who is now the public security minister, aimed to ensure greater editorial independence for the new corporation compared to the IBA, exempting it from government oversight rules that apply to most other public corporations and severely curtailing the ability of politicians to intervene in content and senior staff appointments.

But following efforts by Netanyahu to delay the opening until 2018, and a Likud-led bill to cancel the legislation altogether, the corporation’s management announced in October that it would be ready to begin broadcasting on January 1; that was later delayed until April.

Likud officials have claimed that nixing the new corporation would save the state some NIS 2.5 billion ($658 million), a figure later ridiculed by the Finance Ministry and Erdan.

Critics from both the coalition and the opposition say the real reason for the move was Netanyahu’s fear of the corporation’s political independence.

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