Narrow coalition avoids opposition’s religion and state trap

Bennett: Election will likely be held in May.

The Knesset votes on the nation-state bill, July 19, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset votes on the nation-state bill, July 19, 2018
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset voted down a series of opposition bills on matters of religion and state, which intended to create a predicament for the coalition’s more liberal members on Wednesday.
Senior coalition members continued to view the one-seat majority as untenable, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett saying that “the coalition is indeed shaky.”
The legislation meant to challenge the coalition included a bill seeking to institute civil marriage in Israel, as well as two bills meant to cancel the “Minimarkets Law,” which gives interior ministers – currently, Shas leader Arye Deri – greater power over whether municipalities should allow more stores to be open on Saturdays.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who is gay, absented himself from the first vote, as he does with all votes that could be seen as harming the LGBT community. Kulanu MKs Merav Ben-Ari and Rachel Azaria were not in the plenum during the votes on the Shabbat bill.
While opposition whip MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) has a strict no pairing-off rule, the Joint List, which traditionally does not vote on matters of Jewish religion and state, provided a cushion for the rebel coalition MKs in the form of five members not showing up for the votes.
In addition, a bill meant to have National Insurance allowances for the elderly match minimum wage was voted down by one vote, thanks to new Zionist Union MK Robert Tivaev, who refused to enter the plenum, despite entreaties from fellow party members. Zionist Union punished Tivaev for a month, during which his bills may not be submitted under the faction's limit and he cannot participate in committee meetings.
Despite the narrow victories in the Knesset, many in the coalition continued to be openly skeptical of its chance of lasting much longer.
“This coalition is indeed shaky,” Bennett said on Kan Radio. “The moment [Avigdor] Liberman left the government, he decreed its demise.”
Bennett guessed that the next election will take place in May.
“The government worked well in many areas, but all good things must end with elections,” he added.
Bennett also spoke out against coalition chairman David Amsalem’s negotiations strategy. He echoed Liberman’s argument that Amsalem offered to have the coalition support two bills from Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party in exchange for votes in favor of three coalition bills.
One of those coalition proposals is the “Gideon Sa’ar bill,” which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly backs, that would require the president to appoint the head of a party to be prime minister. The bill is a result of Netanyahu’s suspicion that Sa’ar, a former senior Likud minister, plotted with President Reuven Rivlin to topple him, which both vehemently denied.
“I think the right thing to do is to promote all ideological bills,” Bennett said. “What ruined everything is that the prime minister wants to promote the Sa’ar bill. The government needs to pass laws that promote a right wing agenda. In reality, they’re stuck because of a law with personal aspects.”
Amsalem accused Bennett of destabilizing the government: “I’d like to remind you that Bayit Yehudi does not own the Right. The Likud is the only party that indisputably supports all the nationalist bills, and its members take into consideration every demand accepted by all parts of the coalition.”