Smotrich, Deri Laws pass first reading in Knesset plenum, votes counted 63-52

A-G: Legislative blitz does not guarantee minority rights

 MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Smotrich and Deri Laws passed their first reading on the Knesset floor shortly after 1:00 a.m. early on Friday, after a marathon debate that included a three-hour speech by Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar in order to delay the proceedings.

The “Deri Law,” aims to enable Shas chairman Arye Deri to serve as a minister despite his conviction of tax offenses in January; and the “Smotrich Law” enables Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich to serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry and be responsible for civil matters in the West Bank.

Vote passed

The vote passed 63-52, and the laws now return to the designated Knesset Committee to be prepared for their second and third readings. Once those pass on the Knesset floor, they will officially become law.

The laws were debated throughout the day on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for their first reading in an ad hoc committee set up specifically for them, led by Likud MK Shlomo Karhi.

Wednesday’s arguments focused on the Deri Law, with Shas MKs arguing that Deri’s plea bargain was for a minor infraction and that he should be allowed to serve as a minister. However, opposition MKs argued that the law constituted “state-sanctioned corruption.”

Thursday’s debate focused on the Smotrich Law. Rothman, the law’s author, said it was similar to a temporary law in the 23rd Knesset that enabled National Unity MK Michael Biton to serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry.

The opposition said the division of responsibility and authority between the defense minister and the minister within the Defense Ministry was unclear, which would lead to there being two de facto defense ministries, chaos and loss of life.
 The Knesset Plenum ahead of the vote for the new Knesset Speaker, December 13, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) The Knesset Plenum ahead of the vote for the new Knesset Speaker, December 13, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The two laws are both amendments to the Basic Law: The Government, and are part of a package of laws that the incoming coalition is attempting to pass before Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires on Wednesday.

The other two are an amendment of the Police Law, so that the incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir, receives broader control over the police; and an amendment to the Knesset Law, which cancels the current clause that enables four MKs to break away from an existing party.

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara said earlier on Thursday that the package of laws did not include “mechanisms to balance the power of the majority or ensure the state’s obligation to human rights,” 

“Whoever wants to make a change in the Israeli system of checks and balances should clarify how according to his method the power of the majority will be restrained from harming the minority,” she said at a conference at the University of Haifa.
The power of the law-enforcement system, its public legitimacy and the moral validity of its actions were based on it being professional and detached from ulterior motives, Baharav-Miara said.
“Politicization of the law-enforcement system will lead to serious damage to the most basic principles of the rule of law – equality, predictability and impartiality,” she said. “Even a feeling of politicization of the law-enforcement system will be a fatal blow to its ability to function and cause serious damage to public trust. In a democratic country, it is not appropriate to change the relationship between the political echelon and the law-enforcement system with fast-tracked legislation.”
Members of the incoming government coalition said Baharav-Miara’s comments indicated that she favored the outgoing government in her decisions.
“The attorney-general is mistaken in thinking that she is the real prime minister of the State of Israel,” Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir said in a statement.
“Every law she disagrees with becomes a danger to democracy. It is a great shame that the attorney-general is not participating in the discussions on the bill in the Knesset, because then she would discover that the problem is that the Police Law does not allow the minister to determine policy, even though in practice all the professionals believe that the minister should determine the police’s policies.”

“This is not fast-tracked legislation, but rather important and urgent legislation that will allow the national security minister to restore the personal security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” he said. “I hope that our personal security is also important to the attorney-general.”

Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman posted on Facebook: “I would like to congratulate the attorney-general for her return to serving as a gatekeeper on the occasion of the establishment of the right-wing government.”
“The truth? You were missed,” he wrote.
Outgoing government ministers defended Baharav-Miara.
“I call on Netanyahu to restrain his partners,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. “Netanyahu is weak, and Ben-Gvir is taking advantage of this to attack the attorney-general like the lowest thug. The disdain for legal proceedings, the blitz of legislation even before the government was formed and the attack on public servants who cannot respond are a disgrace to the values of the state.”
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar wrote on Twitter: “The wild attacks on the attorney-general by members of the emerging coalition are part of a systematic attempt to tame the judiciary and the entire public legal service via constant attacks and intimidation. As I warned before the elections, this is an attempt to create a new type of regime in Israel, unfettered and without restraints. We will fight for the future of Israel!”

Other laws the coalition is putting forward

The law that cancels the ability of four MKs to break away from an existing party passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Thursday morning. The ability of four MKs to break away from a party was enacted by the previous Knesset in an attempt to tempt members of the Likud to break away from their party.

The situation in the past, which will now apply again, is that a minimum of two MKs, which also must be at least a third of the party, is necessary to break away and create a new party. This would mean 10 MKs from the Likud, thereby lowering the chance of any possible mutiny.
The law was debated by the interim Knesset Finance Committee and passed its first reading in the plenum 62-53. It now returns to the committee for preparation for its second and third readings on the Knesset floor.
“The government’s and the previous Knesset’s sole desire was to break up the Likud or create some kind of crisis among its members, but it was unsuccessful,” one of the law’s authors, Likud MK Yoav Kisch, said during the debate.“It is clear to everyone that this was a simple, cheap political attempt to create some kind of conflict, which did not happen and will not happen,” he said.
The cancellation of the law “gave a message of the beginning of a new Knesset,” Kisch said Wednesday in a previous debate.
Outgoing Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) said during the debate: “All the laws that deal with splitting of parties are somewhat sad laws. We were elected within parties; I don’t like people being encouraged [to leave the parties].”
He accused the Likud of illegally offering a political position in the coming government to MK Idit Silman, currently of Likud and formerly of Yamina, in an attempt to topple the previous coalition.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (National Unity) on Wednesday said: “This law is the result of Netanyahu’s paranoia. He became a hostage of his accomplices, and the MKs became his hostages. He knows that it will fall apart because some of the MKs will see that they have nothing left and will defect.”
“That is why he is legislating it before a government is formed – to prevent the dismantling of what he is trying to establish here,” she said. “This is survival season.”