Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Two controversial bills aimed at enabling the government to function better
cleared a hurdle when they passed their first readings on Wednesday night in a
stormy session of the parliament.
The first bill, which passed by a vote
of 63 to 46 with two abstentions, would limit the number of cabinet ministers to
nine, deputy ministers to four and no-confidence motions to once a month. The
second bill, which passed by a 64 to 49 vote with one abstention, would make it
harder for Knesset factions to break up and would raise the electoral threshold
from 2 to 4 percent.
The bills must still pass their final readings to
By the time they get voted on after the Knesset's extended
summer recess ends in October, they could change completely.
electoral threshold bill, for instance, is expected to be softened during the
recess, to raise it only to 3 percent. The legislation's fate will be affected
by the verdict in the trial of the bills’ initiator, Yisrael Beytenu chairman
Avigdor Liberman, which is expected in October.
Ahead of the votes,
opposition MKs made fiery speeches in which they accused the coalition of racism
for promoting a bill that could result in Arab factions not passing the
threshold, which would leave them out of the Knesset. The opposition later
changed its tactics, sending its lawmakers to stand silently at the rostrum in
protest, rather than speak.
“Admit that you just don’t want to see these
Arabs here,” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said in her speech. “You want to
raise the threshold because they want to throw Arabs out of the Knesset. These
bills would not strengthen the government’s functioning. They would only
Hadash MK Dov Henin warned that the goal of the
legislation was “the political transfer of the Arab population,” which he said
was Liberman’s agenda.
Gal-On said Yesh Atid, which co-sponsored the
bills, was a “monarchist party that has no right to preach about democracy,”
just like Yisrael Beytenu.
The most surprising vote was the abstention of
MK Adi Kol, who became the first Yesh Atid MK to ever rebel against party
chairman Yair Lapid. She later was compelled to issue an apology for harming
members of her faction. The other abstention came from Knesset Speaker Yuli
Edelstein, who decided he decided his post required neutrality on such
Edelstein’s predecessor, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, was
the only coalition MK to vote against the bills. He said that on principle he
could not vote for legislation that could harm minorities and said Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should not either.
“Our prime minister said
recently that there are times when you have to resist pressure,” Rivlin said.
“This should be one of those times.”
Energy and Water Minister Silvan
Shalom and other coalition legislators accused the opposition MKs of shaming the
Knesset with their silent protests. They were especially angered by United Arab
List- Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi, who was not only silent when his turn to speak came
but also turned his back on the plenum. But Edelstein praised the silent
protests, calling them effective.
Liberman said “the bills would save
At a low-point in the deliberations, physically
challenged MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) and Ilan Gilon (Meretz) sparred
Gilon said, “We both talk on one foot, but you don’t manage to
say anything. Rotem responded, “our problem is with your brain.”