Politics: Moving from the tents to the Knesset

Social reform is expected to be one of the major issues up for discussion at the parliament’s winter session.

By
November 4, 2011 17:24
Tel Aviv social justice demonstration

Social Justice Protest 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

When the 18th Knesset’s winter session began on Monday, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that parliamentarians were caught with their pants down.

“The Knesset is stuck in a cosmetic and manufactured argument about the Green Line, while the social and ideological debate on the Israeli street is light-years ahead of us,” he claimed in his speech during the festive session-opening meeting.

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Looking at the bills expected to be presented in the coming months, it seems that most of the Knesset’s factions are making a concerted effort to catch up with the public’s demands. However, the tent protests are not the only event that occurred over the summer recess to make its mark on MKs, who still have matters of security and borders to legislate.

Most of the Knesset’s factions have rolled out reactions to demands for “social justice,” which they plan to implement through legislation.

Kadima’s efforts to move “from the tents to the Knesset” by planning particular weeks focused on particular issues began on Monday with a no-confidence vote on the housing crisis. On Tuesday, MKs took advantage of their right to a one-minute speech each to read messages posted on the party’s Facebook wall by citizens facing housing problems. Finally, on Wednesday, Kadima set what it called a “parliamentary trap for the government and for Housing Minister Ariel Attias,” by putting six private bills related to housing to a preliminary vote.

Why are these bills a “parliamentary trap?” Simply put, it doesn’t look very good for the coalition to vote against so many social reforms. The “trap” is especially tricky when it comes to bills that are similar to reforms the coalition was already prepared to enact, like Kadima MKs Ya’acov Ederi and Ze’ev Bielski’s bills to require a percentage of homes in large building projects to be dedicated to affordable housing. Another bill, by MK Yohanan Plesner, proposes giving loans to former IDF soldiers or to those who have finished National Service who seek to buy a home, echoing a recommendation by the Trajtenberg Committee for social change to sharply increase the grant given to every citizen upon completion of their IDF or National Service.

In the end, none of Kadima’s bills passed in the preliminary votes, leaving the opposition’s largest party to prepare for Employment Week, which is currently set for November 14.

Kadima is also pushing a bill to cancel the two-year budget and replace it with a “new budget with new priorities” for 2012. The party has put together a task force, headed by MK Ronnie Bar-On, to examine and give a legislative response to Trajtenberg’s recommendations.

In the meantime, Labor is trying to use the new social trend to its advantage and ride on the wave of praise and acceptance that newly elected party leader Shelly Yacimovich has received from the protesters.

The Labor party plans to propose bills on consumer rights, health and other hot topics, and faction chairman Eitan Cabel told The Jerusalem Post that he is working on a long proposal to solve the housing crisis, which may result in numerous bills.

However, hours after Yacimovich declared in a faction meeting that “social justice is Labor,” and Cabel promised to enforce discipline and encourage proactiveness in the party’s ranks, Labor made a major parliamentary faux pas. When the faction’s noconfidence motion based on the government’s social policies came to a vote, the only Labor MK left in the plenum was Cabel. Two days later, MK Amir Peretz proposed Basic Law: Social Rights, which was rejected in its first reading.

A Labor source said on Wednesday that following media attention to Cabel’s efforts to put his house in order, MKs will surely try be more careful. In the meantime, however, it seems that their parliamentary efforts will continue to be lackluster.

Meanwhile, Meretz will continue doing what it has always done: propose social legislation. Perhaps because “social justice” has been part of the party’s agenda for so long, it hasn’t gotten much attention following this summer’s protests, but MK Nitzan Horowitz, for example, announced that he had proposed a Basic Law on Social Rights long before Peretz did.

However, despite the MKs’ best efforts, opposition legislation is highly unlikely to pass because, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said earlier this week, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin “doesn’t know how to lose.”

Elkin has an iron grip on the coalition MKs, successfully passing every bill the government has asked him to and bringing in enough parliamentarians to vote down opposition bills.

Therefore, a Likud source said the opposition’s social bills are “declarative, populist and won’t have any influence,” adding that those looking for practical results will find them with coalition parties.

Meanwhile, Rivlin has declared that he will not allow the Trajtenberg Report to pass “as one mass,” but rather that smaller, Trajtenberg-inspired bills from the Likud are likely to be become the law.

Knesset Committee on the Status of Women chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has declared that she will personally make sure that the report’s recommendation to enforce free education from age three is enforced, and is attempting to legislate free daycare from age three months.

In addition, as chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) is trying to add social aspects to the laws that come his way.

Israel Beiteinu has also jumped on the Trajtenberg bandwagon, and it looks like the party’s efforts will be fruitful.

Six weeks after the tent protests began, the party presented its economic plan, which fits in closely with its platform of rewarding citizens that serve in the IDF and National Service.

The party successfully inserted some of its policies into the Trajtenberg Report, including doubling the grant for those who completed service to their country, better mortgage rates for families with working parents and public housing for the elderly and handicapped.

Israel Beiteinu plans to propose more bills related to its economic plan in the coming months, focusing on “economically helping those who contribute to the state,” faction chairman MK Robert Ilatov explained this week.

Ilatov also explained that Israel Beiteinu will focus on its platform of mandating loyalty from citizens, angrily describing Israeli Arabs who celebrated when terrorists were released from prison in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Schalit.

This brings us to a topic where even the coalition’s efforts will be largely declarative: Bills on prisoner exchanges.

Opposition parties were largely supportive of the Schalit deal, save for the National Union and some comments from opposition leader Tzipi Livni objecting to negotiations with Hamas.

Sources in Israel Beiteinu and the Likud said that negotiations to release captives are the sole responsibility of the government, and that the parties would not advocate bills that would limit such talks. Shortly after the Schalit deal, Rivlin discussed the importance of checks and balances and keeping the branches of government separate, a sentiment that Ilatov echoed.

However, Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Danny Danon, both part of a group of Likudniks politically to the right of the prime minister, have bills in the pipeline that respond to the recent prisoner exchange.

To avoid “a wave of terror that is on its way” after murderers were released in the Schalit deal, Danon suggested a law that would cancel the pardon should one of them return to terror.

“The prisoners’ happiness should be mixed with fear,” Danon explained. “Terror has a price, and this bill will ensure that it will be high and significant.”

Levin proposed a bill two years ago that would worsen the conditions of Hamas members’ imprisonment should another kidnapping take place. The bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but was frozen for fear of adversely affecting Schalit’s treatment while he was in captivity. Now that Schalit returned safely, Levin plans to push this bill again.

“If people are being released from prison early, they should at least receive a real punishment while they’re in prison,” Levin said. “If captive soldiers don’t get the human rights they deserve, why should Hamas prisoners?” In the meantime, another Likud source from that same right-wing group of parliamentarians scoffed at these proposals, saying that while they’re nice ideas, she prefers to work on bills that have a chance of passing.

The same group of Knesset members is working on various bills and motions for the agenda on yet another topic that rose during the summer recess – dismantling outposts.

The proposals mostly suggest ways that the government could authorize the land on which the outposts are built, so that it can offer the courts an option other thandestroying the settlements when they are faced with claims of private Arab ownership. One such bill, proposed by Levin, would give monetary compensation to Palestinians who claim that settler homes were built on their families’ land.

These motions will end up being mostly declarative, but a large chunk of the Likud faction, which was caught by surprise when homes in Migron were dismantled this September, will pressure Netanyahu to prevent outpost destruction.

It is interesting to note that Elkin is an outspoken supporter of settlements. He may have a moral dilemma if the government decides to quash bills that would protect them, as it is his job to make sure the coalition follows the government’s will.

In the end, the laws passed this session will probably reflect what has happened over the last few months.

Lots of major events occurred – Gilad Schalit returned to Israel, outposts were destroyed – but somehow, the calls for social reform overshadowed them all.


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