After conversion bill, parties push other measures

Analysis: Coalition under pressure as Shas presses subsidized housing for young couples in periphery.

Shas (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Shas (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
The IDF conversions bill that passed its first reading Wednesday left the coalition facing serious questions on the morning after, with factions positioning themselves to force coalition-jolting legislation through the Knesset.
The current push could provide significant challenges to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, which until Wednesday had proved virtually unshakable over 18 months after its formation.
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After the Knesset overwhelmingly voted in favor of Israel Beiteinu’s IDF conversion bill, a bill passionately opposed by coalition partners Shas and United Torah Judaism, Shas threatened that in the coming week, the party would advance an equally controversial bill.
Party officials said that the faction would advance MK Yitzhak Vaknin’s (Shas) bill to subsidize housing for young couples in the periphery – a law that is strongly opposed by the Treasury due to its projected cost.
With the housing crunch in full swing, and coalition MKs at the forefront of the push to provide affordable housing, Vaknin’s bill could create a difficult choice for MKs such as Miri Regev (Likud), the chairwoman of the Knesset lobby for affordable housing.
Legislation that pits populist coalition MKs against the Treasury is a common tool for magnifying already existing coalition cracks – in summer 2008, it was a preferred strategy for then-opposition leader party Likud to force Kadima MKs to vote against the will of then-finance minister MK Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima).
The threat to the coalition does not only come from the losers of Wednesday’s vote, but also from Israel Beiteinu itself. During his press conference minutes after the vote on the IDF conversion bill, Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that he hoped that his party would be able to advance “significant” as well as “technical” legislation. As examples, Lieberman listed powder- keg topics such as changing the governmental system, and the party’s controversial loyalty bill – both of which were considered too sensitive to advance quickly through the current coalition.
But Israel Beiteinu sources said Thursday that the party was interested in advancing many of its more controversial laws, and that the faction would work systemically to pass them one-by-one, rather than loading them all on a shakier-than-usual coalition.
The faction official added that none of the other controversial bills would be raised for debate in coming weeks, in order to allow the party to concentrate its efforts on quickly passing the IDF conversion bill through its remaining readings.
One bill that the faction official said that the party “really wants to advance” is the law that would establish civil unions for all Israeli citizens, and not just for two individuals who are both listed as having no religion. The further advancement of legislation by Israel Beiteinu on issues of religion and state is a constant threat dangling over the coalition’s head, especially as Kadima has repeatedly thrown its support behind such bills, which are usually opposed by both UTJ and Shas.
Netanyahu could also face a challenge to his coalition in next month’s Labor convention, which will vote on Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman’s proposal to leave the government if the peace process is not advanced. If the proposal fails however, Labor could be locked into the coalition for several more months, giving Netanyahu much needed political quiet.