Opposition threatens to boycott debates on big three bills

Coalition to enforce one-day debates on final haredi conscription, electoral reform, referendum on land concession votes next week.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Labor leader Isaac Herzog.
Opposition party leaders accused the coalition of shameful behavior Wednesday, after the Knesset House Committee voted to limit the length of debate on the haredi conscription bill, electoral reform and legislation strengthening the existing law requiring a referendum on sovereign land concessions.
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is trying to play one sector against another,” Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog lamented at a joint press conference of the entire opposition. “The government failed in lowering prices and housing costs, fixing the health system and bridging socioeconomic gaps. Maybe that’s why he’s trying to disenfranchise haredim and Arabs [by increasing the electoral threshold].
“Netanyahu is in la-la land. Maybe that’s why he’s in Hollywood today,” Herzog quipped.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) called the opposition’s claims “bizarre and ridiculous” and said it is receiving twice as much time to debate as originally planned.
The discussion of each bill next week will be one day long, as opposed to three days each, which is what the opposition requested.
The coalition invoked an article of Knesset regulations saying that in “extraordinary circumstances” the House Committee can vote to establish procedures for debates, which it did following a raucous debate.
The House Committee decided that electoral reform debates will begin at 11 a.m. Monday and voting will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Discussion of the haredi conscription bill will begin immediately after, and voting will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Following UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Wednesday afternoon, the Knesset will debate the referendum bill until 2 a.m.
Soon after the vote, MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) wrote a letter of complaint to Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon, who decided the decision is “not unusual enough to require intervention.”
“We want debates from morning until night. Limiting debate is breaking the rules,” Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel said at the press conference, which followed the House Committee vote.
“I don’t remember such behavior in the Knesset in the past 15 years,” Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On declared.
In a reference to Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC Tuesday, Gal-On said: “What looks like a dictatorship and quacks like a dictatorship is a dictatorship.”
Gal-On also called for Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to intervene, saying “he is the speaker for all of us; he should be banging on the table.”
Hadash leader Muhammad Barakei vowed to “use every legitimate means to fight,” adding that “it’s not a pleasure speaking under Herzl’s face.”
“Let’s not bother even coming in for the votes,” Balad leader Jamal Zahalka suggested.
“Tell the Knesset speaker we won’t be in the plenum,” Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz added. “They can pass whatever they want; we won’t be there.”
“This is a dictatorship. I wanted to compare it to Ukraine, but then someone told me that even they have democracy, so that won’t work,” MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said. “I think all the opposition MKs should go to the Western Wall, but Gal-On doesn’t like it, so we thought we’d go to the old Knesset building on King George Street.”
Shas leader Arye Deri questioned the logic of scheduling all three votes in one week, saying the coalition is “silencing minorities in the darkest way possible.”
“This is a political deal between the parties in the coalition because they don’t trust each other,” Deri explained. “We asked that the haredi conscription bill not be dealt with on Tuesday, because of the election in Beit Shemesh, but the coalition refused because Yesh Atid is afraid of Bayit Yehudi.”
Levin responded to the opposition’s complaints, saying that “they have many dozens of hours to explain their reservations, most of which are taken from comic books and not from reality.”
“The opposition is trying to undemocratically prevent the completion of the legislative process by harming the Knesset’s work,” he stated. “The opposition has the right to speak, but an attempt by the minority to prevent regular votes and democratic decisions is unacceptable and unprecedented in the Knesset’s history.”
The coalition chairman added that he expects the opposition to take full advantage of the time they are given.
On Tuesday night, Cabel demanded that the opposition be given three days to debate each bill, and Levin responded in a letter pointing out that there are only five plenum meetings left before the Knesset’s Passover break.
In addition, Levin wrote, in the last two Knessets, not one bill was discussed at such length, and the coalition’s offer would still be one of the longest debates since that time.
“The entire purpose of this demand is to try to disrupt the debate while disproportionately and unprecedentedly harming the legislative process,” Levin wrote.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.