Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s bombastic remarks against a bill establishing a new public broadcasting company make headlines across the Israeli press on Monday:
“It can’t be that we’ll set up a [broadcasting] authority and not control it.”
“It’s unacceptable that the communications minister doesn’t have any control over appointments and management of the public broadcaster, which is funded with public money.”
“If we have no control, why should we give it money?”
The outrage in the Hebrew press is palpable, extending almost as far as Likud mouthpiece Israel Hayom but not quite.
Regev made the comments — which already earned her a rebuke from fellow Likud minister Gila Gamliel, who called the remarks borderline fascist — at a cabinet meeting in which the ministers debated a proposal on setting up a new public broadcasting authority next year. The bill passed in the end, but not without the discussion devolving into a shouting match “on the brink of explosion between senior ministers,” as Yedioth Ahronoth reports.
Members of the ruling Likud party charged that the legislation would give religious, right-wing journalists in the employ of the Jewish Home party disproportionate influence. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home shot back that Likud should stop crying because it has a paper of its own.
Is it at all surprising that Israel Hayom buried the remarks about it being a propaganda sheet for Netanyahu, and downplayed the “borderline fascist” remarks by Regev, in favor of boos directed at Labor leader Isaac Herzog during a party meeting in Tel Aviv?
But Regev’s comments were at the eye of the storm.
“We’re creating another branch of the [leftist] elite that doesn’t operate according to guiding principles necessary for a public broadcaster, such as complete and multicultural representation,” Israel Hayom quotes her saying.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who came up with the idea for a new public broadcasting authority during his stint as communications minister in the last government, gets rare praise from Haaretz by pushing back against Regev: “Do you control every performance at Habima [national theater]?” he demanded. “What do you think this is, a law for Miri Regev?”
Yossi Verter, lamenting looming dark days for the Israeli media, says that the very walls of the cabinet room “must have blushed in shame upon hearing the discussion” on Sunday.
“Not even the keenest of satirical critics would have had a character playing a culture minister who says such inane, contemptible things, amplifying her stereotype – which Regev claims is entirely an artifact of bigotry because she is an ‘oriental woman,'” he writes. He notes that the other Mizrahi woman at the cabinet table, Gila Gamliel, “demonstrates professionalism, statesmanlike behavior, equality” and has never been accused of such things.
Former Netanyahu aide Yoaz Hendel writes in Yedioth Ahronoth that the press is meant to be the “watchdog of democracy,” barking when the government does something it shouldn’t. “When in a cabinet meeting two Likud ministers complain about balance in a broadcaster that hasn’t even been founded it raises questions about everything else. There are enough good people with heads on their shoulders in the Likud party who understand the role of the media. Sometimes it appears that most of them are silent out of fear or embarrassment. The tail wags the dog.”
He calls Regev out twice without mentioning her name. “The broadcaster isn’t supposed to represent any party — not Likud, and thank God also not the 13 seats of the Joint [Arab] List. It’s supposed to make quality Israeli television.”
Over at Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit’s reign as crackpot-in-chief is apparently over, and it’s Haim Shine who steps up to denounce the “oligarchy with a clear left-wing worldview” that’s dominated the Israeli press for decades. Its aim, he explains, was to paint Israel as a “leper state” out of a desire “to bring a change of government not through the ballot box. Democracy of the new sort that’s familiar only in African states.”
Finally turning to the question of the public broadcaster after a rambling rant about the evils of the left-wing press dominating the discourse in Israel, Shine says that the new institution is vital, and may provide the editorial balance necessary for Israeli society. Channeling Regev, he says that as it stands, however, the broadcaster appears to have become another platform for “left-wing ideas — with a seal of legitimacy from a right-wing government that founded it.”
Shine appears to support Regev’s call for government control over the broadcaster with his enigmatic sign-off: “Free expression and pluralism are noble values that all citizens of the state deserve, not just the leftist elites. It would behoove the government to ensure those values for all.”