Bitan joins forces with opposition to strengthen Knesset

A bill to strengthen Israeli parliament gains support from both opposition and coalition parties.

David Bitan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
David Bitan
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When coalition chairman David Bitan works together with the opposition to pass a bill, it is the parliamentary equivalent of “man bites dog.”
That is exactly what happened on Tuesday when Bitan and Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson hosted an event at the Knesset to promote a bill they believe will strengthen the functioning of the parliament.
Bitan and Hasson are the co-sponsors of the so-called Norwegian Law, which would require 20 ministers to quit the Knesset in favor of the next candidates on their party lists. If the ministers quit the cabinet, they can return to the parliament, with the MKs who replaced them returning to the candidates list.
The current Knesset passed what was called the “Mini-Norwegian Law” on July 30, 2015, which has allowed one minister or deputy minister from each coalition party to voluntarily quit and return. The law has resulted in there being new MKs in Shas, United Torah, Judaism, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu.
“My goal is to strengthen the stature of the parliament, the work of the MKs, and the principle of separation of powers,” Bitan said. “The coalition and opposition can agree on this, so there would be a wide spectrum of support.”
Bitan said that if he did not succeed in passing the bill, he would instead have to increase the size of the Knesset from 120 MKs to 140, because there are not enough coalition lawmakers doing parliamentary work.
Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers and the speaker of the Knesset do not serve on parliamentary committees, where most legislative work takes place, leaving too few coalition MKs to serve on too many committees for them to be able to handle.
Bitan said some Likud ministers have told him they oppose the bill because being an MK gives them power to vote against the state budget and use that as leverage to help their ministry.
But Bitan said he was ready to fight those ministers and pass the legislation.
“I am ready to go to war for this, because it’s so important,” Bitan said. “We are together on this, and we will succeed.”
While Bitan and Hasson expressed confidence that they already have a majority to pass the initiative, they decided it would be preferable to take time and pass it with dialogue among all the factions in the Knesset.
If passed, the law would take effect for the next Knesset.
“The Knesset is becoming weaker and less able to perform its function of overseeing the government,” Hasson warned.
“Instead, the Knesset is becoming a tool for implementing the government’s decisions.”
A former coalition chairman, Hasson said that when Knesset members are appointed to the cabinet, they effectively cease to function as MKs, except for voting in the plenum on bills they know little about.
“The ministers just come and vote like machines, and they are very annoyed by it,” Hasson said.
The bill is also backed by Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, which sent MKs to the event.
Dr. Chen Friedberg of the Israel Democracy Institute told the MKs at the event that the proposal’s only drawbacks were that ministers would be disconnected from the work of the Knesset, that it could cost NIS 20 million to NIS 30m., and that the public would perceive it as corrupt. But she said there were means for fixing all of those problems with the bill.
“The Norwegian Law has improved the effectiveness of parliaments in European countries,” Friedberg said. “It will save the taxpayers money in the long run, because the MKs will better serve the interests of the public.”