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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition was shaken to its foundations Wednesday when a vote meant to be a shoo-in for the government turned into a chaotic embarrassment that led to a rare coalition filibuster and a last-minute withdrawal of the hotly-debated Israel Lands Administration reform.
Netanyahu responded to the defeat with a combative attempt to restore his coalition to order, threatening that any ministers or deputy ministers who did not vote in favor of the reform would pay a political price.
A number of Likud MKs and ministers joined the entire Labor faction in choosing to absent themselves from the floor during the vote, forcing Netanyahu to apply a rare clause of the Knesset rules to pull the bill from the floor rather than lose the vote.
The vote was supposed to be held moments after Netanyahu finished delivering his speech defending himself against allegations that his government wavered and was subject to internal pressures by its component parts.
It was just that pressure that began to rear its head in the Knesset cafeteria and hallways as the vote on the Israel Lands Administration reform approached. Coalition Chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin and Likud officials ran in and out of the lunchroom, searching for party members to come and cast their vote in favor of the reform.
MK Tzipi Hotovely, who indicated Tuesday that she could not morally support a bill leading to the permanent sale of land in Israel - a situation that many rabbis claimed was forbidden by Jewish law - remained seated in the lunchroom, even as Elkin attempted to convince her to take her plenum seat. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon was also conspicuously absent from Likud ranks as the voting on points of opposition to the bill began, as was MK Danny Danon.
Two key demographics that form the traditional backbone of the Labor Party - the Habonim Dror (Working and Studying Youth) movement and the kibbutzim - were among the most vocal activists, together with the religious B'nai Akiva movement. Although the Labor "rebels" were present in the plenum, ready to vote against the measure, the rest of the Labor Party - including Party Chairman and Defense Minsiter Ehud Barak - were simply nowhere to be seen.
"I understand that Labor hasn't come to vote," a furious Netanyahu said to Labor Faction Chairman MK Daniel Ben-Simon. "I saw it all, believe me, I saw it all. This is going to cost you dearly."
Netanyahu held a last-minute meeting with Jewish Home Chairman and Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz in an attempt to bring him on board, but MK Uri Orbach said that nothing that Netanyahu told Herschkowitz would convince either Orbach or fellow Jewish Home MK Zevulun Orlev to vote in favor of the legislation.
Netanyahu's threats against the Jewish Home Party could - in an extreme case - mean an end to the so-called Slomiansky Bill, the legislation that would allow Herschkowitz to resign his Knesset seat and be replaced by number four on the party list, Nissan Slomiansky.
That bill's passage was also delayed unexpectedly this week when the coalition support for it in committee ran aground after Shas refused to support the bill. In contrast, Shas is the coalition partner that most enthusiastically has supported the ILA reform, and it was Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias who took the podium as the coalition attempted to present the bill and drum up support.
Attias found himself instead stalled on the platform, instructed by coalition leaders to keep speaking in an impromptu filibuster as they attempted to gather the necessary votes. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin finally called the filibuster to a halt, upbraiding him that if the coalition did not have the necessary votes, they should pull the bill.
Now, argue Kadima MKs, the Knesset bylaws state that in such cases, the bill can not be brought for a vote again on the floor until a week has gone by. While ordinarily one week would be a minor setback for a bill, the rule pushes the vote on the bill to next Thursday - the last day of the Knesset's summer session, but also the Fast of the Ninth of Av, when the Knesset will not meet.
Rivlin had stated that the vote on the bill would be carried out next Wednesday - the last working day of the session - but Kadima appealed the decision on the basis of the bylaws.