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Coalition and opposition MKs discuss controversial bills in separate plenums
By LAHAV HARKOV
10/03/2014
Edelstein on opposition boycott of electoral reform, haredi enlistment and referendum votes: They prefer staged acts over debate.
 
The coalition and opposition remained at loggerheads over Knesset procedural issues Monday, but many on both sides seemed to agree on at least one thing: that they do not support the electoral reform bill going to a vote Tuesday morning.

In a conference room in the Knesset, opposition MKs held an alternative plenum meeting, conducted by Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al), in which they bashed the electoral reform bill. They also slammed the coalition for imposing a threeday debate to pass laws on electoral reform on Tuesday, haredi conscription on Wednesday and a referendum on land concession on Thursday, instead of a nine-day debate as the opposition demanded.

“We are fighting for the soul of Israeli democracy. There are rules to this game, and they were trampled,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) declared. “We will have an alternative discourse until this coalition wakes up.”

Referring to Arab parties, MK Hilik Bar (Labor) said “electoral reform is meant to erase certain factions.”

Similarly, MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) accused Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman of being “fascist and racist,” and said “if he’s so afraid of Arabs, he should leave the Knesset.”

“We’re breaking the rules because the coalition did,” Shas chairman Arye Deri said. “Each one of these laws does the opposite of what it intends. The coalition is not democratic and not ethical. They wouldn’t have a majority for haredi conscription without the other two bills.”

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) called for the Knesset to be dissolved and elections to be held.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sharply criticized the opposition for refusing to compromise – even after he convinced the coalition to agree to an extra day of debates – and boycotting the Knesset.

“We can argue, we can disagree, we can sharply criticize each other, but these things should be said in the plenum, before the people of Israel.

That’s why we’re paid,” Edelstein said. “They preferred staged acts over debate in the plenum. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the situation.”

Several others criticized the opposition for refusing to address the plenum.

“This is not only a stain on the opposition members but is seriously damaging to Israeli democracy,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) said. “We were not overly aggressive; the opposite is true. How many other bills were debated for almost a year in dozens of committee meetings like these were? Did we not hear all of the complaints? Were they not examined? These bills all underwent significant changes.”

Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely quoted former prime minister Menachem Begin, who was in the opposition for 29 years, as saying: “We were elected to serve the public from the opposition.”

“He never thought to boycott discussions.

These MKs have reached a new peak of hypocrisy and are cheapening their role,” Hotovely said.

“These MKs picked the easy way out to get a photo-op. They only care about headlines in the newspaper.”

While the opposition held its alternative plenum meeting in protest over the scheduled three-day marathon session, coalition MKs from Bayit Yehudi and Hatnua spoke out against the very policy for which they planned to vote.

“In my opinion, raising the electoral threshold is not good, but so what? I’m in the coalition. Sometimes, in public life, there are no choices, and just like I want others to compromise on issues that are important to me, I’m compromising here, even though I think this is wrong, bad and unhealthy,” Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) explained.

Slomiansky pointed out that if, in 2008, the electoral threshold had been 3.25 percent as proposed in the electoral reform bill, his party would not have made it into parliament and would not have had the chance to rehabilitate itself and reach 12 seats in the current Knesset.

“This bill won’t improve governance,” MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said to a mostly empty plenum, boycotted by the opposition. “We cynically gave this bill a fancy name, but at the end of the day will it be easier for the government to enact its decisions? What does that have to do with limiting small groups from being represented in the Knesset?” According to Mitzna, the real problem is within the coalition and the parties, and the electoral reform bill will reduce the public’s trust in the Knesset.

“Hatnua was the most active in changing the electoral reform bill, but I think we need real changes, like having regional representatives [in the Knesset],” Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit told The Jerusalem Post. Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that all six Hatnua MKs, who are needed to pass the reforms into law, would vote in favor.

The three major bills up for a vote this week, two of which need at least 61 votes to pass as they are Basic Laws, are being passed in a carrotand- stick approach, he explained.

Each party considers one bill to be the carrot – electoral reform for Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid, haredi conscription for Yesh Atid and a referendum for Likud and Bayit Yehudi – with the stick being the chance other parties won’t vote for the favored legislation if another one doesn’t pass.

Hatnua, however, “doesn’t need a carrot” in the form of a bill, Sheetrit said. “We’re voting for bills we don’t like in order to support continued peace talks.”

Still, electoral reform had many defenders in the coalition.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid quoted extensively from speeches by opposition leader Herzog and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On calling to raise the electoral threshold. Lapid accused them of hypocrisy.

“Maybe the opposition just doesn’t want someone else to get the credit,” MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) quipped.

MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bill would improve the work of the government and the Knesset.

“Not every extreme opinion or interests of a niche group can be represented in our parliament, so people will have to reach political compromises to form bigger parties with greater power,” Rotem said. “There will be fewer players in the political arena and less fragmentation in the parliament.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the electoral reform bill “serves democracy,” and that he saw no problem with parties having to merge. He pointed out that many democracies function with only two or three major parties.

In addition to raising the threshold, the electoral reform bill limits the number of ministers to 19, unless 70 MKs vote to add another. Those ministers can each be in charge of only one ministry.

No-confidence motions are to be limited to once a month, and the prime minister will have to be present.

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