Knesset summer session opens amid election rumors

Liberman, Yishai, Barak, Mofaz and Yacimovich call for vote to take place as soon as possible.

Haredi man casts ballot elections 390 (R) (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
Haredi man casts ballot elections 390 (R)
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
Election rumors and no-confidence votes were pushed aside on Monday, as the opening of the Knesset’s summer session was overshadowed by the death of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu.
Early elections seemed like a done deal, as leaders of the Knesset’s major factions said they are prepared to hit the campaign trail. Currently, the election date is set for October 22, 2013.
At a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman opened with condolences to Netanyahu before joking about “elections, the topic that does not interest anyone.”
“The interest of the state requires an election as soon as possible,” Liberman said. “Anyone who knows about government is aware that during an election campaign everything is in the freezer.”
Although the law requires a three-month period between when elections are announced and held, the foreign minister said Yisrael Beytenu would be ready even if the vote takes place next week, and will be the second-largest party in the Knesset.
Liberman added that he would prefer to be in a coalition with both Likud and Kadima in the next government, so that there can be a breakthrough in changing the system of government and issues of religion and state.
The foreign minister reiterated that his party’s alternative to the “Tal Law” – which exempts haredi yeshiva students from army service – must pass, as part of coalition agreements, and Yisrael Beytenu will continue to work despite election rumors.
“We will make all of our promises to the voter come true, including making everyone enlist, even as the scent of elections spreads in the air,” he said.
Another contributing factor to the “scent of elections” was an announcement by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) that NIS 400 million have been set aside as the elections budget.
Gafni did not say whether he favors or opposes early elections, but emphasized that his party would be active and continue to pass reforms until the polls open.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz recalled meeting with Benzion Netanyahu after his son, Yonatan, was killed during a successful IDF operation to free hostages in Uganda in 1976. Mofaz served under Yoni Netanyahu when he was commander of Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit), and the elder Netanyahu invited Mofaz to talk about Yoni’s military career.
“Benzion Netanyahu was a sensitive man who loved the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Mofaz said in a Kadima faction meeting.
“We can’t avoid the topic of elections,” the Kadima leader continued, saying his party will be ready for elections “any day, any hour, any year,” but in his opinion, October 16 is the ideal, as it is after the High Holy Days and Succot.
“No one should get too excited by polls – we are the only alternative to the Netanyahu government,” he said. “We will stand strong and determined.”
Mofaz also emphasized Kadima’s replacement for the Tal Law, which he said will reverse injustices and bring equality in the burden.
Shas also opened its faction meeting with condolences to the Netanyahu family, before moving on to elections.
“We are more ready than anyone else. We’re active, we work fast and our staff is already campaigning,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai said.
According to Yishai, “it is clear that these elections will be full of incitement and hatred towards the Jewish tradition. Parties are competing over who can erase more Jewish symbols.”
Shas will fight in the name of God to protect Judaism, Yishai added.
When asked what his party would like to see in the legislation that replaces the Tal Law, which expires in August, the interior minister said that thousands of haredim are on waiting lists to join ultra-orthodox groups in the IDF, like the Nahal Haredi, and that those who did serve are not called to reserves.
“This is hypocrisy, and an attempt to incite and slander,” Yishai said.
Also on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said his alternative to the Tal Law will surely pass, allowing the IDF to decide who it wants from every population group in Israel.
“Our bill is fair, honest and simple,” he stated. “It will bring equality.”
Barak also expressed confidence that his party will pass the elections threshold in upcoming elections, and said he does not think it matters whether the elections are in August, September or October.
“Independence’s ministers and MKs deserve the public’s confidence,” Barak said. “People will vote for us.”
In addition, the defense minister called rumors that he will get a spot on the Likud’s list for the next elections “baseless,” and jokingly threatened to publicly praise the Likud MKs and ministers “until their bitter end.”
“We moved the process of early elections – the train left the station because of our bill [to dissolve the Knesset],” Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich said at her faction’s meeting.
Yacimovich explained that her party is not hiding the fact that it prefers that elections be held as early as possible, because a long election season is bad for the country, and also because Labor is polling well.
The Labor leader also announced that her party withdrew its no-confidence vote out of respect for the Netanyahu family, and postponed its bill to dissolve the Knesset.
All other opposition parties followed suit, and Monday’s plenum meeting lasted only 13 minutes, with only two items on the agenda.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin opened the unusually short meeting by saying this is probably the last session of the current Knesset.
“The whole country, opposition and coalition, agree that it would be best if the Knesset went to elections so the next Knesset can make difficult decisions,” he explained. “The only argument is when the vote will take place.”