Opposition leader: Coalition still on verge of collapse
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Opposition leader: Coalition still on verge of collapse

Isaac Herzog says Netanyahu’s handling of broadcasting affair amounts to ‘sick obsession,’ predicts elections within a year

Opposition leader Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog at the party faction meeting, March 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Opposition leader Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog at the party faction meeting, March 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition is still on the verge of collapse, and a new, centrist bloc could take its place.

Speaking at cultural event in Beersheba, Herzog said that Netanyahu’s recent brinksmanship over the state broadcaster affair had left the coalition in a fragile shape and he predicted fresh elections “within a year.”

“I estimate that the internal reality of the coalition is at breaking point,” Herzog said. “There is a basic lack of confidence in the prime minister.”

The Zionist Union leader said the 34 Knesset members from his own faction and the Kulanu party could form the basis of an alternative coalition to lead the government.

While Herzog has repeatedly called for such a coalition to replace Netanyahu’s government, other political parties have not shown any interest in joining him, preferring either the current government or new elections.

Herzog’s remarks came two days after Netanyahu and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon resolved a bitter conflict over the future of the new public broadcasting corporation that had threatened to dissolve the government and force new elections.

The opposition head has been an outspoken critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the highly contentious affair, and on Saturday, said the prime minister’s meddling with the revamped Israel Broadcasting Authority amounted to a “sick obsession.”

“I can accept many things, but Netanyahu as prime minister is not one of them,” he told participants. “What Netanyahu is doing right now is a sick obsession.”

Last month, Netanyahu threatened to call early elections if his coalition refused to cancel reforms that would give state media greater editorial independence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi)

In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching legislation to close the ailing IBA, 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.” His key complaint was the law’s guarantee of greater editorial independence for the new agency.

The prime minister called for rehabilitating the ailing IBA. Kahlon, meanwhile, fought for the establishment of the new state broadcaster, as legislated, and with reduced government meddling.

Despite professing that his primary concern was saving jobs at the IBA, Netanyahu is widely believed to have been opposed to the new body because he perceived it as being too left-wing and difficult to control. Netanyahu has long complained of a media hostile to him.

One of the reported sticking points in negotiations was Netanyahu’s insistence on repealing key reforms aimed at ensuring editorial independence for the new corporation and uniting Israel’s three separate broadcasting authorities under a politically appointed oversight body.

Under the deal, that proposal will not be advanced and the body responsible for overseeing the new news corporation will be subject to the same lenient regulations as Kan, according a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

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)

Herzog and other critics have castigated Netanyahu for insisting on repealing measures that would ensure Kan’s editorial independence.

In mid-March, Herzog asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to review Netanyahu’s role in the contentious debate over the IBA, and bar him from involvement in any issue relating to communications or the media until “clear limits are determined.”

Herzog said that despite Netanyahu’s formal resignation from the post of communications minister earlier this year, he was “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 filed by Herzog who said the criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s alleged collusion with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher disqualified him from holding the position.

In Beersheba on Saturday, Herzog said he was seeking further clarification from Mandelblit and the Justice Ministry over the legality of Netanyahu’s actions. If his requests go unanswered, Herzog said he would seek a ruling from the High Court of Justice.

Other opposition lawmakers also spoke out against Netanyahu over the weekend.

Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev charged that Netanyahu had “firmly stabbed Kahlon in the back,” and that he used the situation to manipulate a better outcome in the criminal investigations against him.

Yesh Atid MK Yael German said Netanyahu’s concerns with the IBA meant that more pressing social issues affecting hundreds of thousands of Israelis were left unaddressed by a “government that is only concerned with itself.”

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