Netanyahu criticized across the board for quashing freedom of press in Israel

Israel Broadcasting Authority

Jerusalem (TPS) – The Israeli political spectrum lit up with debate after an extremely heated Knesset session about the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) on Sunday evening. Several public figures from inside and outside the government alleged that Prime Minister Netanyahu is harming freedom of press.

Both left-wing and right-wing politicians expressed harsh criticism over the approach taken by Netanyahu, who is also communications minister, towards the Israeli media and freedom of the press.

“Netanyahu is trying to become the Israeli Fidel Castro with media that can be bent and broken to his will,” said Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog on Monday.

The IPBC is in the process of being formed to replace the current public Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which is considered to be inefficient and has lost most of its public influence. According to a media reform bill which has been in the work for several years, the IPBC was to begin operating in October 2016. However, Netanyahu has recently stated that the launch and replacement is to be postponed until the beginning of 2018. The announcement was not coordinated with fellow politicians or IPBC officials and garnered criticism from many Israeli journalists and politicians.

“If you don’t want to open an independent public broadcasting corporation, just say so,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Netanyahu. “But this postponement is just meant to scare journalists, both from the left and the right, and to prevent them from joining. You are attempting to make the corporation absolutely dependent on the political leadership.”

In its latest freedom of the press ranking for 2016 Freedom House, an NGO based in the United States, demoted its ranking of freedom of the press in Israel from “free” to “partly free.” Freedom House explained that the demotion is largely due to Netanyahu’s absolute control over media regulations as communications minister and the growing market share of the free newspaper Israel Hayom, which is the country’s leading print media outlet. Israel Hayom is owned and subsidized by American businessman Sheldon Adelson and strongly supports Prime Minister Netanyahu.

A discussion on the future of the IPBC was held on Sunday night during which Likud MK David Bitan announced that he would propose a bill to cancel the opening of the IPBC completely, an announcement which was not opposed by Netanyahu.

“I do not look at journalists as left-wing or right-wing. I consider them according to whether they are pro-Likud or anti-Likud,” MK Bitan explained on Monday.

Moreover, Culture Minister Miri Regev responded to Bitan’s announcement by asking, “What’s the point of a public corporation if we don’t control it? Are we just meant to put up the money and they can still broadcast whatever they want?”

The controversy was not limited to arguments between the various factions of the coalition. Some expressed harsh disagreement with Regev and Bitan even within the ruling Likud party.

Fellow Likud member and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel commented Monday on Regev’s remarks that “they are borderline fascist.”

“The things said during last night’s government session are often heard in dark regimes, but are unheard of in a democracy. I call on the prime minister to unequivocally distance himself from them so as to not be tainted,” said Gamliel.

Minister Regev made no comment to the press on Monday, but she has reportedly approached Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit with a demand to investigate how her statements were leaked to the press.