(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
After a tumultuous Knesset vote, the House Committee was convened late Monday night to begin hearings on the so-called Mofaz Bill, in the hopes of preparing the measure for its second and third readings before the summer recess begins later this week.
The bill, which would allow any group of at least seven "rebel" MKs to form its own faction or join another Knesset faction, instead of the current requirement that at a least a third of a party's lawmakers decide to split. MK Shaul Mofaz, the bill's namesake, reiterated Monday that he opposed the measure and did not intend to leave Kadima.
"Mr. Prime Minister has forgotten that he lives in a democratic country," Mofaz told the plenum minutes before the first reading vote. "He is not the ruler of Cuba, and the citizens of Israel are not the citizens of North Korea."
Mofaz did, however, say that he though Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni had made two great mistakes in the past year - first, her failure to form a coalition in October, and second, her refusal to join the new coalition after February's election.
In an interview with Channel 2 television after the vote, Mofaz said, "I am not going to split from Kadima and join Netanyahu. I am going to run against Netanyahu in the elections for prime minister, and I will defeat him."
It was clear throughout the day that the coalition had a majority, and that there would not be a repeat performance of last Wednesday's crisis, when coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) discovered mid-vote that he did not have a majority on the Israel Lands Administration reform vote. This time, despite the opposition on principle of a handful of Likud MKs and ministers including Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, coalition discipline held fast, bringing the vote to a 62-47 victory.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a longtime opponent of the legislation, was the only coalition lawmaker to refrain from voting, stepping down - as he had promised - from the speakers' platform rather than running the vote on the bill he opposed.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), after consideration, decided to join the Labor rebels as the only coalition members opposing the bill.
But within Kadima, opposition to the measure was vocal - and highly colorful, with junior MKs donning face masks on which were written the words, "against political stench."
Kadima officials said that little-heard freshman MK Robert Tibayev (Kadima) had come up with the idea.
Kadima lawmakers, including Yoel Hasson, Yohanan Plessner and Shlomo Molla, were called to order and then removed from the hall, and only allowed to return after they turned over their face-masks to the Knesset ushers. Ushers were hard-pressed to remove the large number of mask-wearing MKs from the plenum, and attempted to simply collect the masks rather than gather and expel the legislators.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), who had been tasked with running the plenum during Rivlin's absence, found himself confronted by a number of senior opposition lawmakers including Eli Aflalo (Kadima), Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al). They yelled at his decisions, while he himself berated Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik.
"You, as a former Knesset speaker, have disgraced the Knesset, your faction and the plenum," Miller yelled, as Livni stood next to her seat, grinning and writing on a face mask.
"The playground behavior of Kadima and of its leader, Tzipi Livni, is the behavior of a scared party that is disgracing the Knesset and harming Israeli democracy," Likud spokeswoman Nili Richman said shortly after the outburst. "It is a pity that their protests do not show respect for the public that sent Kadima to the opposition, as a party that is not content with the democratic outcome."
Kadima returned fire, with its spokesman, Shmulik Dahan, responding that "no mask can cover the political stench that Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] generates. Bibi passed a bill tonight that is entirely political machinations which will blow up in his face and will ultimately divide his party."
Behind the scenes, Kadima and Likud legislators expressed similar opinions - that the Mofaz Bill, should it be passed into law, was just as likely to enable the right-wing of Likud to leave Netanyahu's party as it was to enable the Knesset's largest faction, Kadima, to split.