Legislation that would limit commerce on the Sabbath passed a first vote at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, after a nearly 12-hour plenum meeting in which the bill’s fate remained uncertain well into the night.
The bill, which passed a first reading 59-54, is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties following a coalition crisis over public violations of the Sabbath. If it becomes law, it will require stores to receive permission from the interior minister to remain open on Shabbat, which current Interior Minister Arye Deri of Shas is not expected to give.
Tel Aviv is exempt, because the Supreme Court already ruled that the city could allow mini-markets to stay open.
The coalition was in a vote-counting frenzy for hours, because coalition member Yisrael Beytenu refused to vote for the bill, calling it “religious coercion” and a violation of the status quo on religion and state.
There were also expected no-votes from other government factions: MKs Sharren Haskel and Yehudah Glick from the Likud and MK Tali Ploskov of Kulanu.
With coalition chairman David Bitan distracted by the investigation into corruption allegations against him, his fellow Likud member Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the minister connecting the government and the Knesset, played a large role in trying to negotiate and pressure both coalition MKs to vote for the bill, and opposition MKs to skip the vote.
Netanyahu went straight to the Knesset from his Brussels return flight, which had been delayed several hours due to inclement weather, summoning lawmakers to his office as part of the vote-gathering effort.
The turning point came after 11 p.m. on Monday, when Meretz MK Ilan Gilon agreed to skip the vote to offset the absence of Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas, who was set to undergo a medical procedure under full anesthesia.
It is highly unusual for lawmakers missing a vote for medical reasons to be unable to find someone on the other political side to offset them, but Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson, whose job includes whipping opposition votes, insisted. Hasson plans to punish Gilon for defying instructions, saying the Meretz MK may as well have voted in favor of the bill. Gilon, however, said he was skipping the vote for “humanitarian” reasons, and that being a good person is more important to him than politics.
Soon after, Glick folded. Earlier, he said he will not vote with the coalition unless he has a commitment that the coalition will support his bill to raise the legal smoking age to 21, saying that smoking is the biggest killer in Israel. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Levin, who was helping with the coalition vote count, oppose it.
Shaked said that if 18-year-olds are old enough to kill people as IDF soldiers, they can smoke.
In the end, the sides agreed on a bill that will ban all advertising of cigarettes except in print media.
Meanwhile, Haskel agreed to skip the vote, and MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, who is her own faction and usually votes with the opposition, agreed to abstain.
The coalition also went after the Joint List as the weak link; the Arab faction often offsets MKs and tends to avoid votes on Jewish religion and state issues. However, it would not budge for hours from its opposition to the legislation.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi explained that the faction is retaliating against Haredi parties for voting in favor of the “muezzin bill,” which would limit the times and the volume at which the Muslim call to prayer can be played on public loudspeakers. The proposal passed a preliminary reading in July.
MK Yisrael Eichler of United Torah Judaism pointed out that he didn’t vote for the muezzin bill, so one Joint List MK should skip this vote – but the idea landed on deaf ears.
In the end, only nine of the 13 Joint List MKs were present.
MK: I’d rather die than sing ‘Hatikva’ Balad leader Jamal Zahalka mocked Israeli symbols on Tuesday in an interview with the Anashim (People) program on Channel 12. “I am a Palestinian with an Israeli identity card, but I have no Israeli identity,” Zahalka said.
When asked if he sings “Hatikva,” he said, “I would rather die than sing the Israeli national anthem,” and he complained about “Israel continuing its occupation.” Asked about the Israeli flag, Zahalka said, “Any flag for me is a rag. It’s a piece of cloth. It’s a lot worse than a rag.”
Zahalka is a member of the Joint List that combined four Arab parties ahead of the last election. He succeeded as Balad chairman Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War. Bishara currently resides in Doha, where he is the director of a think tank and is reportedly close to Qatar’s royal family, a major sponsor of Hamas. • Gil Hoffman Bodyguards for Amsalem after threats Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein ordered the legislature’s security to assign bodyguards to Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) after he received several threats to his life. Police recommended the move on Monday, after Amsalem received a letter in his Knesset mailbox that said, “We will cut out your tongue, we will murder you.”
Amsalem is behind some of the most controversial bills on the legislature’s docket in recent months, making him a frequent guest on radio and television programs. His proposals include the “police recommendations bill,” which has been seen as a way to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escape indictment at the close of investigations against him, and the bill to have the state fund Knesset candidates’ primary campaigns.