Civil marriage bill torpedoed by Kadima, Israel Beiteinu

Measure would have allowed weddings where one partner is Jewish.

Kadima’s attempt to put pressure on coalition member Israel Beiteinu proved costly for both sides on Wednesday, with Israel Beiteinu forced to defend itself against charges of neglecting campaign promises while Kadima once again displayed a lack of party discipline.
Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit’s bill to permit civil marriage in cases in which couples could not be married by the Chief Rabbinate fell by a landslide 58-22 in its preliminary reading, with a third of Kadima MKs absent from the roll-call vote.
Sheetrit’s bill is the second civil union bill to fail in the Knesset during the long winter session, with a broader Kadima-sponsored bill being defeated in October. Unlike that bill, which would have established civil union for anyone who wished an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate, Sheetrit’s more conservative legislation would have provided the option only for couples in which one or both of the members is not recognized as Jewish.
The measure was designed to humiliate Israel Beiteinu, which had promised in their election platform to submit a bill permitting civil union within one year of taking office. The clock on the promise expires on March 31.
MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) has promised that his draft will be ready in the near future, but critics of Israel Beiteinu’s plan complained that it is too narrow, only allowing civil marriage when neither member of the couple is recognized as a Jew.
Activists in the Russian-speaking community, where the problem of couples unable to marry in Israel is particularly acute, said that Rotem’s bill would provide a solution for approximately 10 percent of those seeking civil marriages. Sheetrit’s bill would have encompassed an estimated 30%.
Rotem himself was absent from the floor during the vote on Sheetrit’s bill, although he was present moments before the roll-call vote, and minutes later. Israel Beiteinu chairman Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is in Brussels, and thus was also absent, as were party MKs Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon – who was present in the Knesset less than two hours later – and Anastasia Michaeli. Michaeli and Lieberman were also both absent during the vote on the earlier civil union bill as well.
The rest of Israel Beiteinu’s 15-person Knesset faction voted against the bill, waiting instead for their own more limited legislation that is expected to enjoy coalition support. If no bill is passed by Israel Beiteinu, Kadima already said that it is planning to re-submit similar legislation as soon as possible. Kadima must wait six months before submitting identical legislation, but there is no mandatory waiting period before it can submit similar, but different legislation as it did this time.
Israel Beiteinu was not the only faction placed in a difficult position by the legislation. Kadima itself proved to be underrepresented during the vote, with at least three MKs who were present in the Knesset building – Ya’acov Edri, Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Majallie Whbee – absent during the critical vote.
Sheetrit spoke at great length introducing his bill, to allow faction aides to enlist as many MKs as they could find to vote. Kadima MK Eli Aflalo, who has complained about a “secularizing” trend in the party, stayed clear of the Knesset.
Over half of the nine absent Kadima MKs were among those seen as supporters of MK Shaul Mofaz, who also was included among those absent from the vote. Shamolov Berkovich spoke with opposition whip Dalia Itzik prior to the vote, explaining that she had “personal conflicts” with the legislation.
“Unlike Kadima, which is only concerned with public relations – and which, as the governing party [from 2006 to 2009], did absolutely nothing to advance a civil union law, but rather defeated it, Israel Beiteinu anchored the law as part of its coalition agreement,” said Israel Beiteinu spokesman Tal Nachum. “It is important that the Israeli public understand what Kadima MKs are doing, who are apparently divided on this issue as well.”
Nachum added that even if all of his party’s faction had supported Sheetrit’s bill, it still would have been resoundingly defeated.
Labor, also a member of the government, was torn on the bill as well, with a number of MKs – who in October’s vote on civil union voted against the coalition – on Wednesday avoiding the plenum floor in anticipation of the vote.
MK Einat Wilf (Labor), who is herself wed through an overseas civil marriage, said she voted against Sheetrit’s bill due to her loyalty to coalition discipline.
“As far as I’m concerned, I personally support civil marriage,” she said, “but the Labor Party is committed to its obligations as part of the coalition.”
Wilf did say, however, that she hopes to work within the framework of her party to seek alternatives to opposing civil union bills in the future.