During the last session of the Knesset before its summer recess, the coalition was able to pass a first reading of the “governance legislation,” – an amendment to Israel’s Basic Laws – which would make it more difficult for the opposition to topple the government and for smaller fractions to enter the Knesset. Those who will be most hurt by these amendments are Hadash and the parties representing the Arab-Palestinian voters. The legislation, which could see all of those parties eliminated in the next elections, is considered a major step in the attempt to limit Arab-Palestinian and Left representation in Israeli politics.
The reform sparked a dramatic, unusual protest that began among Arab MKs and quickly spread to other opposition parties, especially Meretz and Labor. After the passage of the first half of the reform but before the vote on the second, MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) used his three minutes at the podium to stand silent in protest of the bill. Barakeh started it, he was followed by Hana Swed (Hadash), Dov Khenin (Hadash), Afu Agbariya (Hadash), and opposition lawmakers from the Arab parties, from United Torah Judaism, from Meretz and from Labor followed Barakeh’s lead. On the Knesset’s podium, they used the speaking time allotted to them to stand in silent protest against legislation that seeks to raise the minimum percentage needed to enter the Knesset from 2 percent of the total vote to 4%.
MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) at the podium stand silent in protest of the bill (Photo: Hadash)
The new legislation is a joint initiative of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and extreme-right Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman threw their full political weight behind the new law, which required an absolute majority of over 61 votes to pass. Following a filibuster attempt by the opposition held on the previous night, David Rotem of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party called a special session at 3:30 a.m. so that his Knesset committee could push the bill forward.
Adi Koll, a member of Lapid’s party, abstained during the first part of the vote, which dealt with the issue of no-confidence and ended with the coalition winning 63 to 46. Koll was forced to publicly apologize for her act, and was later stripped of some of her Knesset rights by Lapid. She then supported the bill in the second part of the vote, which dealt specifically with the Knesset threshold, and also passed by 64 to 49.
The vote was postponed to the evening so that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (who was on her way back from the negotiations in Washington) could attend. Along with the “dovish” members of her party, the formers Labor’s Party chairman Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna, Livni helped provide the necessary votes to guarantee the bill’s success. Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin was the only Likud member to oppose the bill, due to its effect on the political representation of minorities in Israel.
The “governance legislation” package will now go back to the Knesset committees, where some amendments could still be introduced. The second and third readings are expected in the fall. Later that night, the coalition passed (again) a bill mandating a referendum in the Israeli public in any event of evacuation of Israeli territory. This legislation will also be completed in the fall.