Electoral reforms pass first hurdle after silent protests

Adi Kol becomes first Yesh Atid MK to rebel against Lapid during vote over two controversial bills.

Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Two controversial bills aimed at enabling the government to function better cleared a hurdle when they passed their first readings on Wednesday night in a stormy session of the parliament.
The first bill, which passed by a vote of 63 to 46 with two abstentions, would limit the number of cabinet ministers to nine, deputy ministers to four and no-confidence motions to once a month. The second bill, which passed by a 64 to 49 vote with one abstention, would make it harder for Knesset factions to break up and would raise the electoral threshold from 2 to 4 percent.
The bills must still pass their final readings to become law.
By the time they get voted on after the Knesset's extended summer recess ends in October, they could change completely.
The electoral threshold bill, for instance, is expected to be softened during the recess, to raise it only to 3 percent. The legislation's fate will be affected by the verdict in the trial of the bills’ initiator, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, which is expected in October.
Ahead of the votes, opposition MKs made fiery speeches in which they accused the coalition of racism for promoting a bill that could result in Arab factions not passing the threshold, which would leave them out of the Knesset. The opposition later changed its tactics, sending its lawmakers to stand silently at the rostrum in protest, rather than speak.
“Admit that you just don’t want to see these Arabs here,” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said in her speech. “You want to raise the threshold because they want to throw Arabs out of the Knesset. These bills would not strengthen the government’s functioning. They would only strengthen racism.”
Hadash MK Dov Henin warned that the goal of the legislation was “the political transfer of the Arab population,” which he said was Liberman’s agenda.
Gal-On said Yesh Atid, which co-sponsored the bills, was a “monarchist party that has no right to preach about democracy,” just like Yisrael Beytenu.
The most surprising vote was the abstention of MK Adi Kol, who became the first Yesh Atid MK to ever rebel against party chairman Yair Lapid. She later was compelled to issue an apology for harming members of her faction. The other abstention came from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who decided he decided his post required neutrality on such controversial bills.
Edelstein’s predecessor, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, was the only coalition MK to vote against the bills. He said that on principle he could not vote for legislation that could harm minorities and said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should not either.
“Our prime minister said recently that there are times when you have to resist pressure,” Rivlin said. “This should be one of those times.”
Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom and other coalition legislators accused the opposition MKs of shaming the Knesset with their silent protests. They were especially angered by United Arab List- Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi, who was not only silent when his turn to speak came but also turned his back on the plenum. But Edelstein praised the silent protests, calling them effective.
Liberman said “the bills would save Israeli democracy.”
At a low-point in the deliberations, physically challenged MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) and Ilan Gilon (Meretz) sparred verbally.
Gilon said, “We both talk on one foot, but you don’t manage to say anything. Rotem responded, “our problem is with your brain.”