Kadima MKs accuses Rivlin of conflict of interest

Knesset speaker says he postponed vote on controversial bill increasing the penalty for libel because of Id al-Adha.

Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced on Monday that he would postpone the vote on a bill increasing the penalty for libel, which he said “castrates the press,” in a move Kadima said reflects a conflict of interest due to Rivlin’s presidential aspirations.
The bill proposed by MKs Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) and Yariv Levin (Likud), which would raise the penalty paid for publishing libelous material from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000, was postponed until next week due to the Muslim and Druse holiday of Id al-Adha, at the request of MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash).
Levin explained that the bill “will ensure that journalists check their reports before publishing them. It will make a more professional and fair media that will prefer accuracy over speed and scoops.”
On Sunday night, before the postponement, Rivlin said that “the media earned this bill; however, it is not proportional. The penalty should have only been doubled.”
“This initiative will lead small media sources to close, and will prevent others from playing their part in Israeli democracy,” Rivlin added.
“The result of limiting freedom of the press will harm the government.”
Following a meeting with his deputies on Monday, Rivlin announced that the libel bill and a bill to shorten the minimum length of a High Court of Justice president’s term would not be put to a vote this week.
“Beyond any political arguments, all members of Knesset respect freedom of worship in the State of Israel, and are prepared to help Muslim and Druse MKs,” he said.
“We will respect them, just as we ask them to respect us.”
The Knesset speaker then announced that the agenda for the week would be set by consensus, thus leading numerous opposition bills to be postponed. Coalition leader Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) explained that this followed a request by Druse MK Ayoub Kara (Likud), who was told that he, like Barakei, could ask to postpone votes during the holiday.
MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) was the only deputy Knesset speaker to oppose the postponements.
Speaking at a press conference later on Monday, Kadima MKs accused Rivlin of acting in his party’s interest, instead of showing the neutrality expected from a Knesset speaker, due to his admitted hope to be Israel’s next president.
According to MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima): “the government is in a panic over Kadima’s social legislation, and now they found an excuse to avoid it – a Muslim holiday.”
“What’s the connection between these bills and Arabs?” he asked.
“I think there is an inherent conflict between Rivlin’s role as Knesset speaker, and his desire to become president,” Sheetrit stated.
“The Knesset speaker needs to manage the Knesset agenda without any conflicts of interest.”
Sheetrit said that he supports an initiative by fellow Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, which would enforce a cooling-off period of three to four years between serving as a Knesset speaker and running for the presidency.
Kadima faction leader Dalia Itzik said that “Id al-Adha is an important holiday, but this is overkill,” while MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said that the coalition is afraid, and wants to avoid conflict with Kadima.
“This is a slippery slope that endangers democracy,” MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said. “The coalition just wants to finish the week quietly.”
In an unusual statement, Elkin said that he agrees with Kadima that the ideal situation would have been to leave the Knesset’s agenda the way it was. However, he explained that if Barakei was given the right to request postponements, Druse coalition members Kara and MK Hamed Amer (Israel Beiteinu) deserve the same right.
“I accept the concept that votes can be pushed off because of a holiday. I even personally asked the education committee to postpone a decision that could influence Arab schools,” Elkin said.
However, the libel bill and the legislation on High Court justices “are important laws that have been subject to public debate,” he added. “I don’t see why they’re Arab or Druse.”