In Netanyahu’s coalition, parties jockey for headline-grabbing legislation

Headline-grabbing bills pander to political interests.

PM Netanyahu surrounded by coalition party leaders Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman, Aryeh Deri and Naftali Bennett (photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
PM Netanyahu surrounded by coalition party leaders Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman, Aryeh Deri and Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
Judging from the news coming out of the Knesset the last few weeks, Jerusalem was saved from imminent danger of being split in a deal with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just barely avoided the police recommending his indictment, all the stores in the country are about to be shut down on Shabbat, and executioner is going to be a new, in-demand job when all the terrorists get the death penalty.
But that’s fake news.
All of these attention-getting bills spurred a lot of talk, but won’t bring about much change in practicality.
And on the way, they weaken the Knesset’s effectiveness by using it as a platform for virtue signaling.
The law limiting police recommendations has nothing to do with Netanyahu in the end, and will apply to a tiny fraction of investigations.
If the “minimarkets bill” passes as planned on Monday, it won’t close any shops that are legally open on Shabbat. It will just allow Interior Minister Arye Deri to prevent more stores from being opened legally on Shabbat – and future interior ministers can reverse that decision. It also doesn’t create any new enforcement options for the ones that are illegally open, nor does it disincentivize municipalities from just charging them fines each week, bringing in millions annually, as they do now.
Jerusalem is “off the table,” according to US President Donald Trump, but even without the presidential Twitter, it’s not like negotiations were happening. And if the capital comes up in future negotiations and the prime minister at that time can’t get the 80 MK supermajority the Jerusalem Law passed Monday demands to cede parts of the city, then he or she can just cancel that requirement with an easier-to-attain 61-lawmaker absolute majority.
And finally, Wednesday’s preliminary vote on the death penalty for terrorists is far less dramatic than Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who made it his central campaign promise, made it seem.
Netanyahu got on the Knesset stage and gave a speech that, at first listen, seemed like a robust defense of the bill, but after a closer analysis, is an attempt to downplay it.
It would only be used for “justice in extreme cases,” he said, and is not so different from the current situation – instead of three out of three judges supporting the death sentence, the bill says there need to be two out of three.
Or, as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Ynet on Thursday: “There’s no need for the [death penalty for terrorists] bill, because there’s already the death penalty today.”
Still, she added: “We [Bayit Yehudi] are certainly behaving as a responsible partner in the coalition and are subject to coalition discipline.”
The motivation for Netanyahu to support the death penalty bill, if not obvious enough, became even more apparent with a Kan report that quoted the prime minister as calling Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz ahead of the vote and saying: “Come quick. This is more important than anything else you’re doing now. In another minute we won’t have a government.”
Netanyahu wants to keep this coalition together so badly that he’s giving in to its members most extreme tendencies. His partners claim this is an excellent coalition and they don’t want an election now, and considering the political pros and cons, they’re probably telling the truth, but Liberman and Deri are not really acting like it.
The irony is that Shas and Yisrael Beytenu have the most to lose from an election – the polls show them just barely over the 3.25% electoral threshold. But that actually explains the behavior of the two party chairmen, who happen to be personal friends despite their political invective. They seem to think that hurling accusations at each other and promoting bills that antagonize the other’s constituents could boost them in the polls. And it just might work.
What all of the aforementioned bills have in common is that they do very little, but, with the exception of the Police Recommendations Law, they play directly to the different parties’ bases.
Bayit Yehudi and the Likud can be the protectors of Jerusalem’s integrity.
Liberman can be tough on terrorism.
And Deri can be a great defender of Shabbat – especially after United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman outflanked him on the issue by resigning from the health minister post because of railway work on Saturdays. Kulanu’s role in the game is to act outraged and claim to be the sane ones in the coalition. Never mind that those who look beyond the headlines know it’s all posturing – they’re relying on most of their voters not to notice.
The problem is that the Knesset isn’t just a place for political posturing and pandering. Lawmakers are directly elected by Israelis, and are supposed to represent us. The things they say and do are supposed to mean something, and using the legislature as a place for virtue signaling weakens it. As it is, polls show the public’s trust in the Knesset is devastatingly low.
So if you oppose the death penalty, the fact that the coalition is legitimizing it is a problem. And if you support the death penalty, the fact that this bill will probably change nothing is a problem. The same goes for any of the other bills.
What the Knesset needs now is what Elvis Presley once called a little less conversation, a little more action – if only the coalition partners will let that happen.