The Knesset is on a break. So now what?
The country’s legislative body started its annual summer break last Sunday, kicking off what may be a more colorful time than is usually reserved for the vacation period. The break, scheduled to last until the conclusion of the Jewish High Holy Days in mid-October, marks the end of a particularly tumultuous time in the Knesset.
As a recap of its final weeks, the Knesset passed a number of bills that can have an impact on the day-to-day life of average Israelis.
The most controversial of the bills passed was the striking down of an aspect of Basic Law, The Judiciary, by voting to eliminate the Reasonableness Clause, a function of judicial review that allowed judges to strike down government decisions or laws they deemed beyond the scope of what a reasonable government body may do. The bill led to nationwide protests, extreme social and political turmoil, and thousands of IDF soldiers announcing that they will halt their reserve service.
Another law was passed that made foreign investment in hi-tech more favorable. The large bill – introduced by the previous government – was voted on in the last week of the session. It seeks to curb large tech companies from growing in the country and then leaving. It will also assist in making the Israeli business market more favorable for individual and corporate investors, namely by postponing the payment of capital gains, as well as by providing tax credits on investments in start-ups and the ability to write off mergers and acquisitions as expenses.
The Electronic Bracelet Bill passed into law and now allows courts to mandate real-time electronic monitoring bracelets on domestic abusers.
A law to increase disability benefits for IDF veterans and victims of terror attacks was also passed. This includes lowering the minimum level of disability required to qualify for state assistance, as well as the period of time required to access that assistance.
Finally, the Knesset passed a number of bills aimed at reducing crime and combating terror. Some of the notable ones are increasing the punishment for nationalistically motivated sex crimes (rape as a political tool); a law that prohibits the reemployment of those convicted of violence against minors; and punishment for gangs that extort farms and small-business owners.
Hopefully, then, the break should offer some peace of mind to lawmakers and citizens alike.
What do Israeli lawmakers do when the Knesset is on recess?
AS FOR the practicalities of the recess, many MKs will still be working. In fact, the Knesset is able to convene for special purposes during the break, a possibility that may become a reality due to the controversy still surrounding judicial reform. In general, though, the breaks are seen as an opportunity for Knesset members to dial back and hear from their constituents about the issues impacting them on a daily basis, and in turn to strategize for the coming session.
The time off will also open the door for political considerations, primarily in the coalition. Something to watch out for is how a potential reorganization of the government may occur during the break. As has been reported, the US Biden administration is working to promote peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, for which a condition placed on the Jewish state may be to build a unity government – which, in turn, would be more likely to agree to land swaps.
It was reported that Biden’s team reached out to opposition leader Yair Lapid and MK Benny Gantz about joining the government. This seems far fetched, given the open animosity that has been displayed between the dueling sides, though nothing is impossible in the realm of politics.
A senior member of the Likud told The Jerusalem Post: “Yariv Levin wants a civil war. There is a large group in Likud that opposes Levin, whose actions are destroying the State of Israel. He doesn’t have the majority to pass the next laws he wants to pass.”
As for the opposition to the government, it appears that the protesters are not planning to take a break. They have announced their intention to continue protesting, and even to up their fight. Protest leaders have said that they are willing to fight even decisions that are unrelated to judicial reforms – protesting against the government in general.
SEVERAL MKS spoke about their plans for the upcoming recess. For some, work is remaining at the forefront. Rookie MK Dan Illouz (Likud) said, “While the Knesset recess may seem like downtime, it’s quite the opposite for me. This period will be packed with valuable face-to-face interactions with Israelis from all walks of life… my priority is to hear directly from my constituents… and bring their voices back to the Knesset.”
This includes discussions on judicial reform, regarding which Illouz has already announced his intention to meet with constituent opponents of the reform to talk it out. According to Illouz, “These conversations are crucial for building bridges and fostering understanding among us all.”
Another freshman MK, Ohad Tal of the Religious Zionist Party, spoke of his plans to tour the country during the break. “During the tours, I will hold dozens of meetings with local representatives who are running in upcoming municipal elections… I am expecting discussions of the challenges for the future and how to assist in the development.” As it was his first term, he spoke of the challenges, such as the “sleepless nights, endless arguments, and tremendous pressures – including demonstrations outside my house and everywhere we went.”
MK Yitzhak Kreuzer from Otzma Yehudit spoke of his desire to “take advantage of the break to stay with his children.” Kreuzer has a heavy work load and a part of a number of committees, which forces him to stay in Jerusalem from Sunday to Wednesday during regular session. He also plans on touring the country and meeting citizens. His focus is on “agriculture, the periphery, the plight of doctors, specifically in the periphery, and war victims and their families.”
The government itself is also taking somewhat of a break. The weekly cabinet meeting typically scheduled for Sunday mornings is on a two-week pause. Again, this will allow MKs to meet with constituents and spend time with their families – and, if some are lucky enough, to escape the brutal August heat.
This should set up a contentious September where the High Court of Justice is expected to hear a slate of cases, in particular challenges to the striking of the Reasonableness Clause. If this happens, you can expect that an emergency Knesset plenum will be announced.