Filibuster may drag into summer recess

Rivlin prevents Elkin from implementing clause that would limit MKs' comments in Knesset plenum.

Zeev Elkin 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Zeev Elkin 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Coalition MKs were forced to remain in close proximity to the Knesset on Tuesday night, as an opposition filibuster on the Mofaz Bill stretched into the night ahead of the final day of the Knesset's summer session. Although the bill was rushed through its first reading Monday night and into committee the next morning, House Committee chairman Ze'ev Elkin failed in his attempt to activate a rare bylaw that would quash much of the opposition's expected plenum fight against the bill. In the early hours of the House Committee meeting, Elkin announced that he intended to activate - for the first time in the Knesset's 61-year history - clause 104 of the Knesset bylaws. That rule would limit the speaking list during the floor debate on amendments to the bill to those MKs who have permanent seats on the House Committee, enabling Elkin to limit - if not completely break - the scale of the opposition's threatened filibuster. "If Elkin heavy-handedly applies this rule, we will make sure to take unprecedented steps in order to ensure that no vote will occur on the plenum floor today," said Meretz chairman Haim Oron. "You are going to bring the Knesset to a crisis on a scale that has never been seen." Oron, together with leaders of all of the opposition parties, fired off an urgent letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, complaining against the use of the obscure clause. Rivlin responded accordingly, entering the crowded committee room with his entire retinue to deliver a guarded reprimand to Elkin. "One of the most important practices in the work of the Knesset is the unity of decisions. I am pleading with the committee chairman - clause 104 is a clause that prevents MKs from carrying out their roles as MKs," said Rivlin, sitting next to his fellow Likud member. "I beg of the committee members and chairman, let the MKs present and debate all of their points of opposition. MKs have been submitting points of opposition for the past 61 years, and have rarely ever been stopped," he said. Elkin was visibly uncomfortable throughout Rivlin's impromptu speech, but thanked him at its conclusion for his insights and said that following the committee meeting, he would consult the veteran Likud MK for further insight as to how to proceed. Ultimately, after almost five hours of hearings, the committee - which was dominated, throughout the voting on the points of opposition, by a clear majority for the coalition - voted to advance the bill unchanged to its second and third readings on the house floor. But under threat of an opposition filibuster that would drag out the vote on the law into unmarked territory following the beginning of the summer recess, scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, the coalition reached an agreement with opposition leaders that the opposition could carry out no more than 45 hours of filibuster. Opposition leaders announced that during the filibuster, opposition MKs would read excerpts from Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan's impassioned comments against the bill sponsored by his own government. "He is the minister that the government created to put their best face before the public, and all he said was true," said Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan, referring to an interview over the weekend in which Eitan blasted the government for the bill he described as anti-democratic. Should the opposition - as expected - utilize all of the time allotted, the debate would not conclude before 2 p.m. Wednesday, and would continue to the final votes next Monday, when the Knesset meets for a specially scheduled recess session to vote on the Israel Lands Administration reform bill.