Barak sitting Knesset.
(photo credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
The political furor surrounding passage of the National Referendum Law on Monday refused to abate on Tuesday, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose party abandoned coalition discipline hours before the vote, slammed the new law as a tool for those who seek to portray Israel as an enemy of peace.
“This law can be used by Israel’s critics, to reinforce the argument that Israel is constraining itself” in negotiations, complained Barak on Tuesday morning, during a conference of local government leaders in the Negev. “The law is the law, but I am not certain that it is necessary or urgent, and that it will not be used by our enemies.”
The law’s sponsor, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), retorted that “Barak does not just suffer from diplomatic blindness but also from forgetfulness; he himself voted in favor of the bill at the beginning of the term.
“The sudden manner in which Barak switched his position and his unrespectable avoidance of the vote yesterday testify to the extent that leaders err in their considerations, and why it is good that the Knesset did not leave the fate of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the hands of people like Barak, but placed the decision in the hands of the entire nation,” added Levin.
Barak’s Labor faction faced pressure from coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) to maintain coalition discipline during the late-night vote Monday, but only two Labor representatives, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, voted together with the coalition.
Barak, together with Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman all were absent during the vote, while a number of the party’s rank-and-file MKs voted against the measure.
Despite threats by Elkin, no coalition sanctions were delivered against the rebellious party a day after the vote.
Sanctions were, however, being considered within Kadima, to punish the faction’s two MKs who voted in favor of the law. MKs Eli Aflalo and Otniel Schneller both rebelled against their party’s decision to vote against the bill that was originally sponsored by Kadima MKs in the previous Knesset.
Rather than joining 13 fellow party members who avoided the vote altogether, the two voted in favor of the bill.
On Tuesday, Kadima’s disciplinary tribunal met to discuss sanctions
against Schneller, and the same tribunal is expected to meet Wednesday
to discuss sanctions against Aflalo. Schneller’s office said that they
had yet to receive the tribunal’s findings.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who supported the bill on the Knesset
floor, said a day later that “the national referendum following Knesset
approval [of a future peace deal] does not contradict the Israeli
governmental system, but it is also no great tiding for our
Rivlin’s office emphasized that he supported Levin’s bill because it did
not bypass the Knesset, but called for a national referendum only after
a Knesset vote.
Rivlin had adamantly opposed an alternate bill, submitted by MK Ophir
Akunis (Likud), which would have established a national referendum
immediately following government approval of a peace deal, effectively
bypassing the Knesset.