Electing a new speaker and Bennett’s mission - opinion

I wish Bennett all the best in his endeavors. He might not have been one of Israel’s best prime ministers, but he is certainly not the monster he has been made out to be.

 NAFTALI BENNETT and Mickey Levy embrace in the Knesset plenum, after the inauguration of Bennett’s government and the election by MKs of Levy as the new speaker, June 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
NAFTALI BENNETT and Mickey Levy embrace in the Knesset plenum, after the inauguration of Bennett’s government and the election by MKs of Levy as the new speaker, June 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Unless there is some last minute hitch, today the Knesset will elect a new speaker from Likud, to replace MK Mickey Levy from Yesh Atid.

Likud sought to elect a new speaker as early as possible, in order to pass some legislative amendments before the new government is sworn in, but this was prevented by Torah Judaism until it had secured most of its own demands.

Finally, Torah Judaism relented, meaning the new speaker could be elected. However, now Likud has another worry. Last Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu requested from President Herzog, another 14 days in which to form his new government, since the original 28 days would have run out yesterday.

On Friday, Herzog granted Netanyahu an extension, but only for 10 days, not 14. It was reported that this is because he believes that Netanyahu can complete the formation of his government in less than two weeks, and accordingly, the legislative amendments can wait until after the government is formed.

The fast-track amendments Netanyahu seeks are designed to enable: MK Arye Deri to be appointed as a Minister; to grant prospective public security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir additional powers which are currently held by the police; and to cancel an amendment passed by the outgoing government, which enables four MKs to break away from their parliamentary group, even if they do not constitute one third of the members of that group. 

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Ben-Gvir might have asserted that he would only join the Government on the condition that his powers had been agreed beforehand. However, only the matter of Deri directly concerns the formation of the Government, since according to article 6(b)1 of Basic Law: The Government, “A person who has been convicted of an offence, and has been sentenced to imprisonment, and on the day of his appointment seven years have not gone by since he ended serving the punishment of imprisonment, or from the day that the sentence was delivered... shall not be appointed as minister, unless the chairperson of the Central Elections Committee has ruled that there is no moral turpitude involved in the circumstances of the offence for which he was convicted”.

The question in Deri’s case is whether “imprisonment” refers only to actual imprisonment, or also to conditional imprisonment. This distinction is important as in the plea bargain Deri signed with the State Attorney’s Office in December 2021 on several income tax offenses, Deri, inter alia, received a 12 month conditional prison sentence.

Rather than approach the current chair of the Central Elections Committee – Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Amit – to decide whether Deri’s offenses involved moral turpitude, Netanyahu and Deri amended article 6(b)1 of Basic Law: the Government, to say it applies to sentences of actual imprisonment only.

THIS IS a constitutional amendment, and it is not clear whether the new opposition will enable its passage by means of a fast-track legislative process. That means that after the new speaker is elected, he might not have enough time to get the required legislation through before the formation of the new government. In that case, Deri’s joining the new government would have to be delayed.

As for the new Knesset speaker, at the time of writing, it is thought that Netanyahu will appoint MK David Amsalem to that position – not so much because he believes that Amsalem is the best choice, but because he is a potential troublemaker, who has already announced that if he is not given the Justice Ministry, he will not accept any other.

For me, and I assume almost all of the new opposition, David Amsalem is bad news. He was one of the most ill-behaved MKs in the 24th Knesset, who insulted most members of the Coalition, and constantly threatened that when “we shall return to power, I personally shall treat you much worse than you are treating us”. He actually spoke of “breaking the bones of the left” (“figuratively speaking,” he added).

If there had been an Ethics Committee in the 24th Knesset (Likud prevented its formation), there is no doubt that Amsalem would have been severely reprimanded. He may even have been banished from the Knesset for up to six months (though those banished may still vote). I really believe that Amsalem is the last Likud MK who ought to be appointed as Knesset speaker. By dint of such an appointment, he would also serve as acting President of the State, in certain circumstances.

What is Naftali Bennett up to?

WHILE THE new coalition and opposition are busy preparing for the forthcoming transition of power, former prime minister Naftali Bennett – who is no longer a member of the Knesset – is preparing to do something about the “poison machine” which spreads libel and fake-news against him as prime minister, and many other members of his government. His main means of action are legal claims against alleged offenders, though this is not a means that can be used against the leader of the opposition and opposition MKs, for the simple reason that immunity protects them from prosecution.

Bennett gives the alleged offenders a chance to apologize and remove abusive materials from social media. Those who refuse are sued, with any subsequent awards being donated to organizations associated with the families of fallen IDF soldiers. So far he has sued Rabbi Ronen Shaulov for one million shekels for broadcasting lies about his parents and himself. These lies allegedly included claims that there was doubt as to whether his father is Jewish, and that his mother had undergone a Reform conversion.

Shaulov, concluded that Bennett himself is consequently not Jewish, which explains why he is willing to give the state away to gentiles. He also referred to Bennett as a dog and a donkey. His repeated harangues on the subject, have allegedly been heard by hundreds of thousands of people.

Many wonder whether such lawsuits are befitting a former prime minister, or why Bennett didn’t take action while he was in office. Bennett argues that when he served as prime minister, he was busy with matters of state, and that now, as a private person, it is more befitting to deal with these issues. The question is whether lawsuits are the answer.

I do not think anyone can give an unequivocal answer to this. I would add that it is less important to take legal action against crackpots like Rabbi Shaulov, who has a history of unbridled attacks on people of whom he disapproves, than against people known to have clear political affiliations.

The bottom line is this; I wish Bennett all the best in his endeavors. He might not have been one of Israel’s best prime ministers, but he is certainly not the monster he has been made out to be by those who revile him. Moreover, he deserves respect.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members - A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.