Knesset to select president, defense panel chairman

Summer session begins Sunday; "Nationality," "Israel Hayom" bills set to be debated.

Yuli Edelstein 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yuli Edelstein 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Knesset summer session begins this week, after a long Passover break, with presidential elections and the selection of a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman.
The Knesset’s summer session will commence on Monday and end August 3.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is expected to set a date for the presidential election at the beginning of the session. The vote must be announced at least 21 days before it takes place, meaning that the earliest it could be is June 2, and it must be before President Shimon Peres’s term ends on July 27.
Edelstein plans to speak to the many candidates before choosing a date for the election.
MKs Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu), Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman, retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, green energy entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz and Dr.
Yehuda David announced they are running, plus several others are considering joining the race.
The Knesset will also appoint a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman after six months without one and following a court order demanding that it announce its choice by May 8. The Knesset House Committee has a meeting scheduled to recommend a nominee on Monday.
Although legally, the responsibility to select committee chairmen falls on the Knesset speaker, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is usually a political appointment by the prime minister, who flew to Japan the day before the summer session begins.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left the leadership of the sensitive committee empty after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman left it, and is expected to choose either Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, departing coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), Knesset House Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu) or Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah for the prestigious job.
The Knesset is also set to discuss several controversial bills in the session, though the three months are not expected to be as turbulent as the winter session, in which lawmakers focused on haredi enlistment and electoral reform.
Netanyahu made clear he plans to push through a bill for a Basic Law to declare Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People as swiftly as possible.
The measure, nicknamed the “Nationality Bill,” is based on a proposal by Levin and MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and declares that “the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People, where they realize their aspiration for self-determination according to their cultural and historical legacy.”
According to the measure, “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”
The legislation features sections on the flag, anthem and symbol of Israel, and reinforces the Law of Return, and defines the Land of Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish People and the place where the State of Israel is founded,” giving legal status to the historical Land of Israel.
It calls Israel a democratic state “based on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace according to the visions of the prophets of Israel, and committed to the personal rights of all its citizens as detailed in every Basic Law.”
Still, the language mentions personal rights for all citizens – as opposed to national rights – making it clear that only the Jewish People have the right to statehood in the Land of Israel.
The measure is likely to face opposition from within the coalition, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who announced that she will fight it, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. MK Ruth Calderon from Lapid’s Yesh Atid party submitted a vaguer version of the bill last year, which would simply turn the text of the Independence Scroll into a Basic Law, and opposed to it being compared to the Levin-Shaked proposal.
Another proposal that courted controversy and will be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approval in the coming weeks is what is known as the “Israel Hayom Bill.”
The proposal, submitted by MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor), Robert Ilatov (Likud Beytenu), Shaked, Elazar Stern (Hatnua), Ariel Attias (Shas) and Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), would outlaw free daily newspapers.
The text of the legislation says it seeks to “strengthen written journalism in Israel and ensure equal and fair conditions of competition between newspapers.”
The bill’s definition of a free daily newspaper applies only to Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu paper owned by his major supporter and donor Sheldon Adelson, who also contributes to Republican candidates’ campaigns in the US.
Also in the coming months, the Knesset is expected to pass new ethics guidelines for its members for the first time in over 30 years, with a House Committee set for Monday morning on the issue.
The new ethical code composed by MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) and Hanegbi has rules ranging from how to treat Knesset workers – with respect, of course – to when it is appropriate to use the Knesset letterhead.
The guidelines will deal with what is seen by many in the Knesset as the Ethics Committee’s biggest problem, a lack of authority, allowing the committee to recommend that MKs not be chosen for special positions, such as committee chairman, and recommend that lawmakers with such roles be suspended or removed from them. In addition, the Ethics Committee will be able to dock MKs’ salaries for up to two months.
The proposed code will require the Knesset Legal Adviser to review all parliamentarians’ declarations of wealth, which they are required to submit at the start of each Knesset. MKs will not be allowed to commit to a lobbyist that they will vote one way or another.