Analysis: A tale of three bills

As Netanyahu breezes through Knesset votes, his coalition allies prefer abstaining to voting against their ideals.

Knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was the best of times and the worst of times for members of the coalition Wednesday afternoon, as three key Kadima-sponsored bills suffered defeat after defeat on the Knesset floor. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was present on the floor for two of the three bills, could chit-chat with ministers contentedly, calm in the knowledge that at least for now - with his Sunday foreign policy speech political kilometers away - his coalition was holding strong in the face of Kadima attempts to pull it apart on ideological grounds. But it was the worst of times for Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who was forced to flee the house floor rather than cast a vote against civil union. After all, it was Lieberman and Public Security Minister Uzi Landau who ran on a platform of uncompromising ideology that included a major plank supporting civil union. But three months and a coalition agreement later, Lieberman was backed into a corner by the private member's bill sponsored by Kadima MKs Shlomo Molla and Robert Tibayev. Israel Beiteinu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman argued that Israel Beiteinu had not abandoned its voters, and that the coalition agreement included a promise for similar legislation. That legislation, Neeman argued, would be advanced later in the government as a state-sponsored bill with the approval of all member parties, including Shas and UTJ. However, critics argue that the promises listed in the coalition agreement are less wide-reaching than those in Molla's bill or in the bill proposed in the last Knesset by Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem. Still, the much-publicized civil unions bill was not the start of Israel Beiteinu's troubles Wednesday. Less than an hour earlier, Israel Beiteinu members voted against a bill proposed by Kadima MK Marina Solodkin that sought to secure social benefits for World War II veterans wounded while fighting against Nazis. The government opposed the bill, but the veterans are a central demographic at the base of Lieberman's party, leaving Israel Beiteinu with a difficult choice. In that vote, the party had no choice. All of the members - not just key members - decided to be absent from the floor rather than vote against their electorate - or against Bibi. A third vote Wednesday tested the mettle of Labor and even some Likud MKs - most notably Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar - by proposing an extension of maternity leave from 14 to 16 weeks. Although the government opposed the measure, Sa'ar and Deputy Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Orit Noked (Labor) were among the sponsors of a similar bill that passed its preliminary reading during the last weeks of the previous Knesset. Then, too, the Kadima-led coalition opposed the measure, despite the fact that a number of Kadima MKs were co-signers on the bill. And it is perhaps because of this that it was the best of times for the current prime minister. Not only did his coalition hold steady in the face of a bill that enjoyed a wide base of support throughout the Knesset less than one year ago, but his control over coalition discipline proved so absolute that it was Noked herself who took the stand to explain the government's opposition to the measure. However, like her Israel Beiteinu counterparts, when the vote itself came a few seconds later, Noked, too, found herself trapped between coalition and conscience, and abstained from casting a vote.