Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government faced yet another challenge overnight Monday as the Knesset engaged in a marathon debate over a bill that would grant scholarships to released IDF soldiers that would pay for two-thirds of their studies.
Coalition leaders urged the Likud to vote for the bill, while opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud said it would instead vote for its own bill that would pay for 100% scholarships. Likud officials said the party’s MKs intended to speak all night, for 15 hours, in the plenum.
There were internal fights inside the party over whether to let the coalition’s bill pass. MK Avi Dichter recommended that the Likud MKs absent themselves from the vote so there would be a majority.
MK Miri Regev said she “felt no stomach ache voting against it, because everyone understands the rationale when we vote against coalition bills.”
In a stormy Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu complained about leaks of tapes from faction meetings in which MKs argued and said he was disappointed that not enough MKs were interviewing to defend his views in the press.
“I checked your interviews, and most of you had none,” Netanyahu said. “Nothing, zero, nada. There is nothing that I took the time to tell you. I brief you, and you put me on mute.”
MK Yuli Edelstein said the party had been backed into a corner.
“Ninety percent of the public doesn’t understand our objections to the bill,” he said. There were negotiations with Ra’am (United Arab List) to vote for the bill.
It was also unclear how rebel MK Idit Silman would vote. She absented herself from a no-confidence vote on Monday.
Former rebel MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voted with the coalition, but she defiantly skipped a faction meeting of her Meretz Party. Labor leader Merav Michaeli mocked Rinawie Zoabi in her faction meeting.
“I am proud that we are the only faction that hasn’t extorted the coalition,” Michaeli said.
Soldier activists came to the Knesset to push for the bill’s passage, with the encouragement of coalition leaders.“The role of the opposition is to fight against the government, not to fight against our soldiers,” Bennett told reporters at the Knesset. “Don’t stoop to petty politics. Don’t raise your hands against IDF soldiers.”
In his Yesh Atid faction meeting, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called upon Likud MKs to “get your heads out of your cynical politics, think about the 16,500 IDF soldiers who would lose their scholarships, and show them we can work together for the common good.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his Blue and White faction the IDF must remain above politics.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction, “For Netanyahu, the yeshiva students come first, and the soldiers can wait. It would be a mark of Cain if the Likud votes against such a justified bill.”
For Netanyahu, the yeshiva students come first and the soldiers can waitFinance Minister Avigdor Liberman
Netanyahu called on Lapid, Bennett and Gantz to “free yourselves of the Zoabis” – a reference to Meretz’s Rinawie Zoabi – and vote to give 100% scholarships to soldiers.
“Bennett and Lapid are giving large sums to terrorism supporters,” he said. “A government that needs the opposition to help soldiers because they rely on terrorism supporters should no longer exist. Our soldiers give 100%; they deserve 100%.”