In a move Knesset trivia buffs are likely to recall for many years to come, the prospective new Likud head of the Welfare, Work and Health Committee could turn out to not be a Likud MK at all, following a series of political machinations on Wednesday that had even Knesset veterans shaking their heads.
When the Knesset's winter session began in October, MK Moshe Sharoni of the Gil Pensioners Party served as both chairman of the committee in question and party whip. However, after insisting on advancing a bill raising seniors' pensions by 20 percent, at a cost of more than NIS 4.3 billion to the government, he lost both jobs.
The bill, however, had already passed a first reading with the support of 70 MKs.
An angry Gil leader Rafi Eitan dismissed Sharoni after he refused to table the expensive legislation, arguing that the party had reached an alternative agreement with the Finance Ministry that would raise pensions by only 16%.
"Sharoni's dramatic and controversial behavior led to his dismissal," said Eitan, who added Sharoni had also behaved inappropriately with several female party activists. Eitan had made similar charges against other members of his party, although no concrete charges were filed.
Sharoni insisted his support for the bill was at the focus of his dismissal, which he termed "ugly and dirty underhanded opportunism," then announced he'd form his own Pensioners Party to run in the next elections.
This week he was informed that his own party had petitioned the Knesset House Committee to remove him from his post as committee chairman as well.
However, before the House Committee could vote on removing him, Sharoni informed members of the Welfare Committee that they would convene Wednesday for an emergency vote to pass his bill. "This is an important bill that will help Israel's weakest population," he told them before the vote. "It is the promise we made during the elections, and we must fulfill it."
With most of the coalition MKs walking out, including several Israel Beiteinu MKs who helped write the legislation to begin with, the bill passed 6-0, with one abstention. Supporting it in defiance of the coalition position were Labor MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Yoram Marciano and Orit Noked, who were joined by the Opposition's Arieh Eldad (National Union), Moshe Kahlon (Likud) and Ran Cohen (Meretz). It will now go for a second and third reading, where the coalition is expected to fight the legislation.
But back in the House Committee, less than an hour after his bill was approved, Sharoni was voted out as Welfare Committee chairman. An angry Likud faction whip MK Gideon Sa'ar announced upon hearing this that he was relinquishing his place on the Welfare Committee and giving it to Sharoni -- who would now represent the Likud on the Welfare Committee, despite Sharoni's still being a Gil MK.
Welfare Committee members celebrated Sharoni's dogged insistence on passing the bill, with several promising to return him to his position when they vote on a new leader next week.
"Sharoni will be the Gil Party MK who is serving as Welfare Committee chairman for the Likud," said a committee spokesman. "Who said partisan politics was dead?"
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