The coalition has lived to see another week.
Avigdor Liberman’s resignation from the Defense Ministry threw the Knesset into a panic, with nearly everyone certain that the coalition would fall apart – and coalition partners publicly saying as much. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was determined to keep his government going, and managed to get his mutinous ministers to fold, one by one.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing for the 61-seat coalition from here until whenever Netanyahu feels like making a move. There are many important items on the Knesset’s agenda, and it’s unclear if the coalition will be able to accomplish them while living on borrowed time.
The main days for voting in the Knesset are Mondays and Wednesdays. On Monday, the coalition lost a vote on a minor bill and pulled most others from the Knesset’s agenda. The bill was not controversial at all; it was meant to change the way plots of land are measured so as to be in three dimensions, meaning they would include height and depth. But the opposition wanted to make a point.
On Wednesday, the coalition did fine. But it was due to some very extreme efforts – like Likud MK Sharren Haskel coming from the hospital with an IV in her arm to vote – and to the opposition’s own ineptitude, with lawmakers publicly squabbling over whose trip abroad was approved or not.
The coalition only had a one-seat majority from 2015 until Yisrael Beytenu joined the coalition in mid-2016, yet it survived. But every week was a nail-biter. The opposition won about a dozen votes that year.
That experience makes it clear that the idea that no one can offset a colleague’s absence when he or she is at the hospital or at a family wedding may work for one angry evening, but MKs aren’t likely to hold to that for long. The motivation in a coalition’s fourth year will be lower than in its first.
The only MK to benefit from a narrow coalition is Likud rebel Oren Hazan, who reportedly was able to have a court date postponed – he was indicted for assaulting the mayor of Ariel – because of the dicey situation in the Knesset.
It’s under these difficult political circumstances that the coalition will try to pass some major pieces of legislation.
First, there’s the “haredi enlistment bill.” In December 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the government must come up with a more egalitarian law regarding mandatory IDF service for haredim. The extended deadline to pass a new law is the beginning of September.
The latest draft of the bill sets targets for haredi enlistment in the IDF or national civilian service that rise each year over the next decade. If the targets are not met, there will be financial penalties against the state’s budget for yeshivot that will increase each year. The financial sanctions will be waived for the first two years of the law’s existence. If the targets are missed for three years in a row after the first two years, the law will be voided, and all haredi men will be subject to the mandatory draft.
The haredi parties Shas and UTJ are not going to vote in favor of the bill, but they won’t vote against it and won’t topple the coalition over it, according to reports of the latest political agreements. If the bill is not significantly changed, the coalition can rely on support from Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid to pass.
Then there’s Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s “cultural loyalty bill” which allows her ministry not to fund cultural works that disrespect state symbols, consider Independence Day to be a day of mourning, or incite to violence or terrorism, among other things.
While the bill does not ban these works, it removes state funding from such recent, controversial works as a play about Palestinian terrorist Walid Daka, or an artist stuffing an Israeli flag into his rectum. However, many cultural institutions in Israel rely upon state funding, and artists and intellectuals have criticized the bill as a form of censorship.
Kulanu’s support for the bill has always been shaky, but it was tweaked slightly to gain the party’s support. The changes limit Regev’s authority, such that it only applies to cultural works and not institutions, and she will not have an automatic majority on the committee that evaluates the decisions.
However, the party’s MKs are unenthusiastic about having to vote for the bill, which could go to a final reading next week. And Yisrael Beytenu backed down from its promise to support the bill after the coalition put the brakes on the party’s bill to make it easier to sentence terrorists to death.
Another controversial bill is the “Gideon Sa’ar bill,” based on a theory floated by the prime minister that someone – probably Sa’ar, a former senior Likud minister – is conspiring with President Reuven Rivlin to be appointed the next prime minister. Sa’ar and Rivlin both adamantly denied this.
But Netanyahu is still pushing a bill that will require presidents to choose a party leader as prime minister, instead of the current law, which leaves the president’s choice open to any member of Knesset. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Netanyahu this week that he will not support the bill as long as it significantly limits the president’s authority.
One bill unlikely to be hurt by the narrow coalition is the proposal to penalize parents who fail to vaccinate their children. It unanimously passed a preliminary reading on Wednesday (115-0) in a rare show of cross-party unity. The bill states that parents who refuse to inoculate their children according to Health Ministry requirements – against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, varicella, HPV, pertussis, hepatitis A and B, polio, and others – will receive repeated warnings, and if they still do not immunize, they will forfeit their child tax credit. If there is a suspected outbreak, unvaccinated children can be kept out of schools, and a school may be temporarily shut down.
In light of Israel’s current measles epidemic, with more than 1,200 cases reported in Jerusalem alone, mostly among the city’s haredi population, this bill has taken on great urgency for MKs across the political spectrum. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman backed the bill as well.
So there’s at least one thing the Knesset can get done despite its political dysfunction. Whether everything else will be stuck in the tug-of-war between the opposition and the one-seat-majority coalition remains to be seen.
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