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Israeli Flagship Newscast Suddenly Shut Down Over Netanyahu’s Concerns

Staff of Israel's flagship evening newscast, "Mabat LaHadashot" ("A Glance at the News"), a public broadcast funded by the government, were told abruptly that their show was being terminated.

David Han, serving as the channel's official liquidator for the Israeli Justice Ministry, announced to staff a few hours before air time on Tuesday that all broadcasts would cease Wednesday morning, although 20 employees would remain through Thursday for the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final broadcast, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In the news show before the last broadcast, anchorwoman Geula Even struggled to hold back tears as she read news of the sudden decision to shut down Israel's 49-year-old newscast.

"This is our last edition. So the rest of this program is irrelevant. ... This has been my professional home for many years. At the end of the day, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs," Even said. "I hope they will find new jobs and public broadcasting continues to be strong even if it exists in a different format."

Employees thought their last broadcast would be on May 15, and they ended the show with a rendition of the national anthem, "Hatikvah," in tears.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Broadcasting Authority shutdown of "Mabat" was necessary for planned reforms of the public broadcast system. He said the former public broadcasting corporation would be streamlined into a replacement organization that is cheaper and less bureaucratic and that reports news with a smaller staff.

The official announcement of the new organization is expected on Monday, and the Knesset will vote next Wednesday to approve amendments.

The IBA employs 1,500 employees, 440 of whom said had been rehired by IBA for the new organization. The new bill's amendment states that the number can go up only to 510, leaving hundreds of other employees without jobs.

Image: Protesters demonstrate against Benjamin Netanyahu
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to restructure public broadcasting April 1 in Tel Aviv. Baz Ratner / Reuters file

Netanyahu's office released a statement Wednesday slamming Han's handled of the show's abrupt termination, The Times of Israel reported.

"The prime minister heard about it from the media. He did not support the move and it was not done with his knowledge. He is also not authorized to make such a decision," the statement read. "The manner in which the broadcast authority was closed was disrespectful and dishonorable."

While Netanyahu stressed his lack of involvement, critics said he plays a prominent role in the long-term switch from IBA to the new network.

Under the current system, certain Netanyahu scandals that could pose as conflicts of interest for the prime minister, such as expensive gifts to his family, were widely publicized.

Netanyahu also frequently lashed out at investigative journalists like Ilana Dayan for leading efforts to topple his government, and his office labeled some of them as "leftists."

Image: The offices of Kan, the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv
The offices of Kan, the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv in November. Baz Ratner / Reuters file

"Without public broadcasting, the State of Israel is not the State of Israel. An official public broadcaster is very important. It allows the government to express its policies and to try and explain [them] to the public," Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said. "But the broadcasting authority is the public's because it is the broadcasting authority that is meant to allow the public to formulate its views."

The three-month time frame to pave a smooth path toward the new organization alarmed some.

"It's stupid and impossible," said Eitan Cabel, chairman of the Knesset's Economics Committee.

Israel also faces a downgrade in its latest freedom-of-press report by the watchdog group Freedom House, which moved Israel's classification to "partly free" in its annual freedom.

"Like Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokespeople frequently insult and denounce members of the domestic media, and the Prime Minister rarely takes questions from reporters," the watchdog said.