Labor boycotts Knesset vote to ratify more ministries and deputy speakers

Despite protests from Labor ministers who - with one exception - were absent from the plenum floor, the Knesset finished its first week of activity with a vote to create three ministries and split another two ministries into four, so there would be enough portfolios for coalition members. In addition, the plenum voted to expand the number of assistant Knesset speakers from seven to nine. Aside from the notable absence of Labor Party ministers throughout the vote - with the exception of Minorities Minister Avishai Braverman - the vote was divided cleanly along coalition-opposition lines. The votes to create the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, and the Intelligence Agencies Ministry - as well as the votes to divide the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry - carried the house by almost two dozen votes. Kadima members walked out of the room during the vote on increasing the number of assistant speakers, after faction leader MK Dalia Itzik told them to leave rather than vote against legislation that the party - in essence - supported. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni was absent from the Knesset votes, as the opposition leader has been throughout the first week of Knesset proceedings. "The official disbanding of the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry to shreds and the establishment of two additional content-less ministries constitute a needless waste of money that is destined to fund ministers and positions and has nothing to do with the public good," said Kadima MK Yoel Hasson. Hasson was a vocal participant in the debate over the establishment of the ministries, calling out throughout speeches from coalition representatives in advance of the votes. Labor's boycott of the vote was not due to the staunch opposition of party rebels such as MK Ophir Paz-Pines to establishing the four new ministries, but rather due to their not receiving the Immigrant Absorption Ministry as they had hoped during coalition negotiations. Most of the Labor rebels were also absent from the floor during the votes. In the meantime, the newly appointed ministers are waiting with bated breath for the Finance Ministry to clarify their budgets for the coming year. One minister complained that he found it impossible to propose new plans for his fledgling ministry without any indication of his budgetary parameters besides the budgets of already-existing programs that now fall under the auspices of his ministry.