Opposition to Attempt Taking Control of Knesset Speakership

Hopes of the Likud to form a “Zionist national emergency government” to perpetuate racist PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power appeared dampened on Friday, March 14, as the largest opposition party, Blue & White announced plans to replace the speaker of the Knesset from the Likud tomorrow (Monday, March 16).

MK Benny Gantz’s Blue & White sent a letter to Knesset Speaker and former settler Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein (Likud) on Friday, requesting to hold a vote for a new speaker on Monday. Replacing Edelstein could enable Blue & White to push through legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government while under indictment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein in the parliamentary plenum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein in the parliamentary plenum (Photo: Knesset)

Blue & White is widely expected to propose one of its representatives, MK Meir Cohen, as Knesset speaker. Whoever the candidate may be, he or she is expected to have the backing of the Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Meretz. The position of Gesher’s only MK, Orly Levy-Abekasis, still officially a part of the Labor-Meretz alliance, remains unclear after she declared last week that she would not recommend Gantz as premier.

Control of the position of Speaker of the Knesset would give the opposition parties greater power to advance legislation, including a much-discussed bill that would prohibit anyone currently facing criminal charges from forming a government — effectively disqualifying Netanyahu from doing so.

This comes after Gantz and Netanyahu spoke overnight on Friday about the possibility of forming a unity government in light of the coronavirus crisis. Before their discussion, Gantz said he is willing to discuss the formation of unity government that would include “all parts of the house,” specifically meaning that the predominantly Arab Joint List, the third largest bloc in the Knesset, would also participate in the emergency coalition. Netanyahu subsequently responded by saying that he and his party would not agree to “supporters of terror” being in the Israeli government. Leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), slammed Netanyahu’s racist incitement designed to exclude Arab leaders from an emergency government, pointing out that Israel’s hospitals are staffed by thousands of Arab doctors and nurses. “If we can save lives, we can make decisions,” Odeh wrote on Twitter.

A Blue & White official said Friday that “Netanyahu is not serious about contacts regarding an emergency unity government. We have asked him to send a negotiating team to start discussing this with us, but as of now, it still hasn’t happened. Therefore, we’re continuing to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the event that an emergency government does not come about, and intend to continue in our efforts to replace Edelstein.” The official added, “If an emergency government does emerge, the decision regarding who will be the Knesset Speaker will be part of the coalition negotiations.”

In the meantime, Justice Minister Amir Ohana has expanded his powers to freeze court activity should the number of coronavirus cases increase, thereby enabling him to declare a state of emergency in the justice system and postpone Netanyahu’s trial set to begin this week.