Summer protests' shadow looms over Knesset’s winter

Analysis: While it may seem like business as usual at Knesset, issues raised on streets this summer are on the agenda for winter session.

Rothschild 311  (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Rothschild 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A quick look at the Knesset schedule beginning this week, the first week of the winter session, makes it seem like it’s back to business as usual for the 120 parliamentarians.
However, a closer look at the bills and motions on the agenda reveals that the summer’s socioeconomic protests, which were renewed on Saturday night, will be reflected in the coming months’ legislation.
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On Monday, immediately after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni address the plenum in the winter session’s celebratory first meeting, the weekly votes of no-confidence will begin.
While Kadima has proposed a vote under its usual topic – “Netanyahu’s diplomatic, economic and social failures” – other parties have focused on more specific issues.
Labor’s measure, for example, will express a lack of confidence in the prime minister because of his “failure to shrink social and economic gaps.” This topic, a major part of Labor’s platform, is expected to play an even bigger role for the party in the winter session, following the social justice protests throughout the country.
New Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich is widely seen as having won the party leadership primary due to support from the demonstrators, and is likely to try to stay popular by continuing to focus on socioeconomic issues.
Social NGOs have teamed up with MKs from Kadima and Labor to make sure the calls for change move “from the tents to the Knesset” via legislation on topics mentioned in this summer’s and this weekend’s demonstrations such as affordable housing, education and health reforms and employment.
In fact, this week, no fewer than seven bills on housing are expected to be brought to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation in search of coalition support.
Coalition parties will also be initiating socioeconomic bills. MK Carmel Shama- Hacohen (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, and MK Miri Regev (Likud), chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for the Right to Housing, have outspokenly advocated reforms, calling for action that goes further than the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change’s recommendations.
As chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has pushed for the implementation of existing rules requiring free earlychildhood education, in line with the Trajtenberg Report.
A source from the initiative to draft bills complementary to the Trajtenberg recommendations also mentioned MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Israel Beiteinu) as a coalition member who has been friendly to the protesters’ cause, and who is considering cooperating with the social NGOs’ campaign.
However, for the leaders of the social justice movement, these legislative efforts may not be enough.
Daphni Leef, Stav Shafir and others have been calling for the 2012 state budget to be canceled and replaced with “a new social budget through cooperation with the public.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Kadima asked protesters to sign a petition calling for a “new budget and new priorities,” which a party spokesman said was the only way to pass reforms.
Two Knesset Finance Committee meetings on the budget will take place this week; they will probably feature political sparring, but are unlikely to lead to any drastic changes, as the government is determined to enact reforms that remain within the limits of the budgetary framework.
When the protests first broke out in July, Kadima led calls to rewrite the budget, even saying that the Knesset’s summer recess should be canceled so a new budget could be drafted. But the calls have lessened in recent weeks, possibly because such a bill is unlikely to pass.