Zohar to remove Shasha-Biton, sanctions Likud MKs

The series of disciplinary actions led to heavy criticism from one Likud MK, protest from another, and denunciation by opposition MKs of what were described as Zohar’s heavy-handed actions.

Knesset Coronavirus Committee Chair MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud) (photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN/KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN)
Knesset Coronavirus Committee Chair MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud)
Likud faction chairman and coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar has told fellow Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton that he is removing her from her position as chairman of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, and has also sanctioned several other Likud MKs for failing to vote in accordance with coalition discipline.
The series of disciplinary actions led to heavy criticism from one Likud MK, protest from another and denunciation by opposition MKs of what were described as Zohar’s heavy-handed actions.
Following the disciplinary measures, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his backing for the steps taken by Zohar, saying the Likud party “cannot govern without discipline,” and pointing out that he had said on Monday he would back such action.
“I request from all Likud MKs to show responsibility, be diligent about maintaining factional discipline, and to cease with the internal, unnecessary attacks within the party,” Netanyahu tweeted. 
Shasha-Biton overturned several government decisions on coronavirus policy over the last two weeks, frustrating Netanyahu, leading to several threats against her position and resulting in Zohar’s decision to remove her on Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, Shasha-Biton demanded her committee be provided with data about the number of COVID-19 infections occurring in swimming pools and gyms after the government sought to shut them down, and reversed the decision when the government failed to provide it, arguing that the risk of infection was too low to justify the high economic price of the step.
Zohar erupted in anger at the time, and told Shasha-Biton she was finished in the Likud party, although he eventually backed down.
Then, last week, Shasha-Biton’s committee overturned government orders to close down all restaurants, again arguing the economic cost was too high and the risk of infection too low to justify the decision.
This led to a renewed threat to fire her from the chairmanship of the committee, this time from Netanyahu, but no such step was taken until Tuesday.
Shasha-Biton’s insistence on exercising Knesset oversight of the government’s coronavirus policies did, however, lead directly to the provisions in the comprehensive coronavirus legislation passed last week which gave several different Knesset committees oversight power over government coronavirus policy, and bypasses Shasha-Biton’s committee completely, making it essentially obsolete.
“Zohar’s sanctions against 12 other Likud MKs came because several Likud MKs last week either absented themselves from a vote in the Knesset plenum on an opposition bill to ban gay conversion therapy, or voted in favor of it.
The passage of the bill in its preliminary reading embarrassed Zohar and the Likud, and causing a coalition crisis with the ultra-Orthodox parties who blamed both Blue and White and the Likud for the passage of the bill in its preliminary hearing.
In order to remove Shasha-Biton from her position as Knesset coronavirus chair, the Knesset House Committee will need to convene and vote upon such a motion, although Zohar himself said it may be possible to remove her without going through this process.
Blue and White has previously expressed opposition to firing Shasha-Biton due to the negative impact on the Knesset’s oversight prerogatives over the government, although party sources have indicated that since the committee was allocated to the Likud, it is the Likud’s right to determine who heads it and that Blue and White would likely not oppose Likud if it decides to fire her.
Shasha-Biton said in response that she had acted “in accordance with my conscience,” and said that “the decision of the prime minister to fire me” was designed to stop serious debate and ignore public input on COVID-19 policy.
As well as informing Shasha-Biton she will be fired, Zohar also sanctioned 12 Likud MKs for their failure to vote against the gay conversion bill last week.
Among them was MK Shlomo Karhi, who subsequently accused Zohar of working “deceitfully and manipulatively,” and for seeking to advance himself politically.
“He is divisive, harms the Likud and the prime minister and needs to go home now,” said Karhi, insisting that he had a voting offset with Yesh Atid for the entire day of voting when the bill came up.
Opposition MKs also denounced Zohar for his actions, with Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked saying that “when someone in this bad coalition finally does good work for the public, without panicking, they fire her.”
Labor MK Merav Michaeli said that “Netanyahu’s mafia continues with its campaign of political violence, saying that Shasha-Biton had merely “faithfully carried out her job” and adding that “with Netanyahu, you don’t do what’s right you do what’s good for him, and only him.”
In response to the criticism, Zohar said that it was “my job and obligation to take care of the integrity of the coalition,” and said that there had been a weakening of coalition discipline, which was making government work more difficult.
“In consultation with the prime minister it was decided to issue these sanctions on those who breached coalition discipline as all other Israeli governments have done in the past,” said Zohar.
It is sad that there are people who do not know how to take criticism and chose to shoot within the [right-wing] vehicle.”
Meanwhile, dozens of people gathered in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening to protest against police brutality and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s attempts to prevent protests from taking place outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.  
The protest was organized by the Black Flag movement, whose members chose Ohana’s residence in Tel Aviv as the location for the protest.  
Ohana came under heavy criticism lately, after trying to prevent protests from taking place on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Ohana has claimed that he did not try to ban the protest, but rather to have it moved to another site in Israel’s capital city.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.