Published On: Tue, Nov 1st, 2016

Netanyahu’s new imaginary enemy

Op-ed: When the prime minister turns a marginal issue—the new public broadcasting corporation—into his No. 1 threat, it's possible we are witnessing one of his most serious paranoia attacks.

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Is there anyone—in the political system, in the media, in the public, somewhere—who understands what the prime minister wants? Is there anyone who can explain the loop Benjamin Netanyahu has gotten himself into in regards to the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC)?

Who exactly is Netanyahu fighting here, apart from the demons running around in his head? And how has a reform, which he himself supported, become the main issue on the government’s agenda, when even Likud ministers find it difficult to understand the motivation behind this battle, seeing it as complete insanity?

There is no escape from determining that like children who invent an imaginary friend, Netanyahu constantly needs an imaginary enemy. A fundamental issue he will fight over to the last drop of our blood. First it was the law against free newspapers, which prompted him to push for new elections, then came the Iranian issue and the gas deal, and when that was taken off the agenda—the media became the prime minister’s No. 1 threat again. When one hears the accusations issued by Netanyahu’s associates against the IPBC, one cannot help but suspect that we are witnessing one of the most serious paranoia attacks the prime minister has ever suffered from.

This is an issue which should concern all of us. When the prime minister loses proportions, makes a mountain out of a molehill and turns a marginal issue in terms of running a state into the main issue the state has been dealing with for the past two weeks—there is definitely cause for concern.

So what have we had here? It began with a move led by Gilad Erdan as communications minister in Netanyahu’s previous term, which was backed by the prime minister. It continued in the current term, with Netanyahu as communications minister. If he was so opposed to the IPBC’s establishment, he could have stopped it a year and a half ago. But in the same cabinet meeting in which Culture Minister Miri Regev said, “What good is a public broadcasting corporation if we don’t control it?” Netanyahu said that “We” have already taken care of the press, that the public broadcasting corporation is not that interesting, and that the important thing is to create competition against the existing commercial channels.

Both in the Knesset and in the long conversations he had with media organizations, the prime minister spoke about creating competition against the television channels. So what has happened to turn the IPBC into a do or die issue that has caused his people to threaten to stop playing by the rules and call for yet another election?

It likely indicates Netanyahu’s mood rather than any fundamental issue he has discovered.

On the one hand, the desire to control the media, and on the other hand, the paranoia that he is being targeted, that he is being persecuted, that the newly established public broadcasting corporation is part of a plot to bring him down. His willingness to launch such a radical battle over an issue that is actually so marginal to him and will definitely not determine his future shows that he is haunted.

Who are his enemies? IPBC Chairman Gil Omer? IPBC CEO Eldad Koblenz? With all due respect to the IPBC and the importance of its establishment, the prime minister should not be dealing with this issue, neither directly nor as a second or third hand. But Netanyahu has already quarreled with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, got in trouble with Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information Erdan and is facing a hand-to-hand combat with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whom Netanyahu had recently made huge efforts to bring closer and who was perceived as delusional, no less, by Netanyahu’s own party ministers.

The phrase “Sunday morning fever” is beginning to take root in the Likud, as a way of referring to Netanyahu’s mood every Sunday when he returns from a weekend at home, recharged with a new rage and suspicion against the people surrounding him. Clearly, like in other cases, Netanyahu is reaching a dead end, restricting and binding himself. The match point will be the cabinet vote next week. Any opposition to the cancellation of the IPBC will have to happen before the vote, because if it passes—all ministers will be committed to support the move at the Knesset.

In other words, if Kahlon decides to stop the law against the IPBC, his clash with the prime minister will have to take place before next Sunday’s vote.

The finance minister did not attend the cabinet meeting on Sunday or the coalition party leaders’ meeting, which was scheduled to discuss the cancelation of the IPBC. Kahlon is no patsy. He did not wish to lend a hand to a spin by the prime minister during the meeting. Kahlon knows that this whole issue is a test, a test of his relationship with the prime minister, a test of his conduct vis-à-vis the public. Will Kahlon give in to Netanyahu and agree to shut down the IPBC, or will he refuse to provide the huge sums involved in disbanding the IPBC and going back to the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA)?

I believe Kahlon will stick to the financial issue: if Netanyahu is able to prove that he can cancel the IPBC for less than NIS 10 million, Kahlon will not be able to object and will vote in favor of shutting down the IPBC. If it costs more, and we are currently talking about NIS 400 million, Kahlon will say: The public elected me to protect the public budget and divide it properly. I cannot approve such sums.

But what if Netanyahu tells Kahlon that it will cost NIS 300 million, and that if Kahlon refuses to approve it he will go for early elections (Although elections are actually an insurance policy for the IPBC)?

What did I tell you? A small test for Netanyahu, a big test for Kahlon.

By Ynet News

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