FM Lieberman in Knesset 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
With a handful of coalition MKs disappearing from the Knesset plenum in order to avoid a political minefield, the Kadima-sponsored bill to establish civil union as an alternative to marriage suffered a resounding defeat in its preliminary reading on Wednesday.
The bill did not, however, go down quietly, as a high-decibel debate fraught with accusations of hypocrisy erupted between members of Israel Beiteinu and the bill's Kadima sponsors.
At Kadima's request the vote on the legislation, which was sponsored by MK Shlomo Molla and co-sponsored by fellow Kadima MKs Robert Tibayev, Yoel Hasson and Nahman Shai, was carried out through a roll call, forcing each lawmaker to voice his vote of yea or nay live on the Knesset Channel.
Despite the absences, the bill was defeated by a vote of 63-38, with members of the Arab parties breaking from their usual opposition to civil union to support the initiative.
Voting on record against civil union was a sticky wicket for coalition members Labor and Israel Beiteinu, after both parties included promotion of civil union in their campaign platforms. The issue is particularly resonant with Israel Beiteinu's Russian-speaking base, as the majority of Israelis who cannot marry in the rabbinic courts are immigrants or children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Three Israel Beiteinu lawmakers - party chairman Avigdor Lieberman, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and MK Anastasia Michaeli - left the Knesset plenum rather than choose between voting against the coalition and against civil union.
Labor MKs Eitan Cabel and Orit Noked also abstained from voting on the issue, with Cabel refusing to chose a camp even as he carried out a side conversation on the Knesset floor.
Labor rebels MKs Ophir Paz-Pines and Yuli Tamir continued with their habit of voting against the government, casting the only coalition votes in favor of the measure. MK Shelly Yacimovich, a supporter of civil union, apologized to the bill's sponsors in advance, explaining that a prior commitment would keep her away from the vote.
But the evasive tactics of Cabel and Noked and the votes by Paz-Pines and Tamir were not enough to silence Kadima MKs, who called out during the vote, "Where is Labor? Where is Labor?"
Molla and Hasson called out, "Shas Beiteinu, Shas Beiteinu," implying that Lieberman's party and its haredi partner in the coalition had merged.
The most virulent back-and-forth, however, was carried out between Kadima MKs - especially immigrant representatives Marina Solodkin and Tibayev - and Israel Beiteinu members.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," Tibayev shouted at Sofa Landver (Israel Beiteinu), one of 12 of the party's 15 MKs to vote against the bill.
"Shame, shame," Solodkin yelled throughout the roll call.
Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who sponsored an almost identical bill in the previous Knesset - which, he noted, had been opposed by the current bill's sponsors - filed a petition to speak after the vote, saying he had been personally injured by the diatribes launched against him by Kadima legislators from the speaker's platform.
Kadima responded to the vote's result with a swift assault on Israel Beiteinu and its leader.
"Yet again, we are shown that Lieberman's word is worthless," Kadima said in a statement. "Today, the union between Lieberman and Shas buried another one of Lieberman's election promises, and his party proved that for himself and his party, staying in power is more important than being reliable."
"Israel Beiteinu's vote leaves hundreds of thousand of citizens who can't marry in a religious ceremony in the lurch, and cynically clarifies to them that [promises] and post-election political realities are two different things. Kadima will continue to act to advocate for the bill in the future, as it committed to in its campaign," the statement concluded.
"Today, a new party was formed. Shas Beiteinu," Molla said following the vote. "In opposing this bill, a number of MKs proved that you can disregard all those who voted for you on the basis of common ideology in exchange for receiving roles in the government. This sort of thing deepens the decline of the public's faith in their politicians.
Israel Beiteinu was not prepared to let such allegations slide.
"Unlike Kadima, which only deals with public relations and when it was the governing party did not do anything to advance the law for civil union but rather brought it down, Israel Beiteinu anchored the law as part of its coalition agreement in order to advance it and to bring it to realization in the plenum," said one party official. "[Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni's voice is only heard strongly when she is in the opposition, but she disappears and becomes mute when she is serving in the government."