Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
On December 18, 2000, the Knesset passed what gained notoriety as the "Netanyahu Law." Its purpose was to allow the then-Likud leader to run for prime minister, even though he was no longer a Knesset member. Netanyahu had taken a hiatus from politics following his 1999 electoral defeat. But the man himself did not exploit the opportunity accorded him and spoke out, at the time, against legislation explicitly geared to shape the fortunes of a single politician.
That makes his current forceful insistence upon what is popularly dubbed the Mofaz Bill all the more incongruous. That bill has survived a stormy first reading and will be put to second and third readings in special sessions despite the Knesset's summer recess. It enables any seven MKs within a single faction to split off and form a new recognized faction without incurring the penalties now prescribed by law. As things stand, only a third of any given faction - which would mean 10 of Kadima's 28 MKs - can splinter into a new faction.
The giveaway is the number seven. It exposes the underlying aim: to lure away Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's opponents. Seven Kadima MKs - presumably spearheaded by former chief of General Staff, defense minister and narrowly defeated Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz - are considered likely at some point to jump ship. But the hullabaloo has embarrassed Mofaz sufficiently for him to publicly dissociate himself from Netanyahu's maneuver.
Netanyahu nevertheless wants the potential for a split in Kadima to remain viable. Had seven not been the magic number, the bill might have stipulated a quarter of a faction, which is what the seven constitute in Kadima. A quarter, however, endangers Labor, which Netanyahu has no interest in harming.
ANOTHER ITEM of politically inspired legislation on the Knesset's agenda these days is the Slomiansky Bill, geared to quell unrest within Habayit Hayehudi. It would permit one minister per faction to resign from the Knesset and be replaced by the next in line on his party's list. However, should the minister lose his position, he would be allowed to reclaim his parliamentary seat. This is calculated to help former MK Nissan Slomiansky regain his seat, the loss of which triggered infighting within his party.
Such custom-tailored legislation is hardly unique in the Knesset's annals, nor any more transparent in its unabashed championing of specific individuals' vested interests. Neither did the Netanyahu Law of nearly nine years ago constitute a particular watershed.
The Knesset's brazen penchant for fixing political problems by legislating quick remedies intended only for a given case is endemic. The list of such shameless misuse of legislative prerogatives is long.
It has been a particularly preferred political tool in the past decade. We had two bills dealing with Shas's disgraced Arye Deri - one extended the period of "moral turpitude" that barred him from rapidly returning to politics, and the other allowed him to be released after serving only half his term (rather than the customary two-thirds). We had two Shimon Peres laws - one permitting the appointment of two vice premiers and another calling for the abolition of the secret ballot in the Knesset vote for president.
The David Tal law allowed a single MK from a faction of three to bolt without adverse repercussions. The Amir Peretz law forbade MKs to serve as Histadrut chairman. The last Knesset nearly adopted an initiative designed to allow Labor's Ehud Barak to serve as his Knesset faction's chairman though he was not an MK at the time. Early elections preempted that legislation.
IT IS sad and frustrating to see the amount of parliamentary time accorded such untoward schemes, especially when set against the dearth of attention for serious proposals.
These bills are patently undemocratic because only public figures of considerable influence can benefit from them. The blatant focus on select, vested interests only further erodes the public's confidence in its lawmakers.
It's not too late for Netanyahu to shelve his cynical Mofaz Bill, whose undisguised objective is to damage a rival faction. Our concern is not Kadima's welfare, but fair play. And if even that doesn't move the prime minister, he might remember that a Knesset majority wielded in this untoward fashion against a rival party today might be mustered against his own party tomorrow.