Budget debates turn nasty

Coalition, opposition threatened mutual boycotts, until Edelstein swooped in.

Stav Shaffir gestures while speaking in the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Stav Shaffir gestures while speaking in the Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Discussions on the structure of the next state budget took a spiteful turn on Wednesday, with the coalition and opposition boycotting one another until Knesset Speaker Edelstein implored them to move on.
The Knesset Finance Committee has been working on a bill that would allow the next budget to cover two years – for 2017 and 2018 – which passed a first reading last week. The committee sought to establish a mechanism by which the Finance Ministry will be required to bring all changes to the Knesset for oversight, if it decides to update the budget after one year.
The opposition opposes the concept of a two-year budget, and successfully filibustered the vote on the bill that the Finance Committee was scheduled to hold on Tuesday.
Thousands of objections were submitted, and the opposition refused to remove any of them from the docket resulting in votes that continued well past midnight. The efforts were led most prominently by MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union), who has made budget transparency her flagship cause.
“We read objections, one after the other,” Shaffir said in a video posted to Facebook after the discussions stopped for the night. “They had a lot of content, with thought behind them to make the budget much better, [but] the coalition members belittled us. They tried to make deals... they asked us how much money do we want for our causes, in order to stop the filibuster. Their politics is all deals and populism. We won’t accept it.”
Coalition coordinator in the Finance Committee Miki Zohar (Likud) issued a video in response, pointing out that Shaffir isn’t even a member of the committee. He argued that she only shows up to the committee to pull stunts that will get her attention among Zionist Union voters.
“When I asked her why she submitted hundreds of objections, she gave a condescending and racist response,” Zohar said, not elaborating what that response was.
Zohar argued that the coalition MKs are doing actual work to help citizens, while Shaffir is not.
On Wednesday morning, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) announced a moratorium on cooperation with the opposition: coalition MKs would not vote for opposition bills, even those approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation; Bitan would not conduct his weekly negotiation meeting with opposition factions on Sunday; and he planned to block opposition- initiated bills from moving toward a final vote next week.
“The coalition took all bills seriously without considering if they come from the coalition or opposition, and instead of behaving the same way, the opposition is breaking all agreements and making a mockery of the Finance Committee,” Bitan said.
In response, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called Bitan a bully, and said his threats are a “pathetic attempt to strike fear in MKs who are leading a just battle against a law that tramples the Knesset and the Finance Committee.”
Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli wrote a letter to Edelstein detailing Bitan’s threats, and saying the opposition will boycott the plenum until the Bitan takes them back.
“The opposition behavior that Bitan referred to was a filibuster through bringing up objections... a basic opposition tool in the work of the Knesset,” Michaeli wrote. “To us, [Bitan’s threat] is breaking every convention of reasonable parliamentary behavior.”
Addressing the plenum, Edelstein scolded MKs for their behavior.
“This is not the way to have a parliament,” he said. “There are negotiations [between the coalition and opposition] every week, where people talk and don’t always agree. There are enough parliamentary tricks that can be used; the rule book allows many different ways.”
Edelstein added that if MKs start “punishing and boycotting” one another, there won’t be much left to the Knesset and everyone will be hurt in the end.
The speaker then left the plenum to his deputies to negotiate with Bitan, Michaeli and other opposition MKs, telling them that if this is how the debates are starting, there won’t be a budget at this rate.
The opposition agreed to return to the plenum, and the endless debate in the Finance Committee continued.