Reuven Rivlin - Ilan Assayag - 08112011
Speaker Reuven Rivlin Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin caused a storm in the Knesset on Monday when he acceded to a request submitted by MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash ), asking that votes on two controversial bills be deferred due to the absence of Arab MKs who are observing the Eid al Adha holiday. One bill, the "Grunis Law," has the goal of paving the path for Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis to become the Court's President. According to the law, a judge can be nominated to serve as the Court's President even if he or she has not completed three years of service on the bench.

The second law would significantly raise fines for defamation offenses. Under the proposal, sponsored by MK Yariv Levin (Likud ), compensation penalties for such offenses can reach NIS 300,000; in cases where it turns out that media outlets did not fully publicize the aggrieved party's response, the fine can even reach NIS 1.5 million. Rivlin persuaded Barakeh to withdraw a no confidence measure which Hadash had formulated against the government.

Responding to Rivlin's decision, coalition Knesset chairman MK Zeev Elkin demanded "reciprocity," and asked for a deferral of votes on bills sponsored by the opposition, on the grounds that Druze MK Ayoob Kara (Likud ) will be observing his community's holiday of the sacrifice next week, and will not be able to cast a ballot in the parliament. "When Barakeh asked that the Knesset show consideration toward Muslim MKs, I agreed with his request. I was surprised when it turned out that he asked that votes on the Grunis law, and the defamatory law, be deferred, as part of this request. I don't think that these laws have a distinctively Muslim dimension, and I do not think that it is necessary to defer the votes so as to allow Arab MKs to take part in them," Elkin declared on Monday. Rivlin assented to Elkin's request to defer votes on the opposition proposals.

These developments complicated the second week of the Knesset's winter session. Despite the decisions to defer votes, one controversial bill will be referred to the Knesset for balloting in a week: The government has announced that it intends to compel a Knesset vote on a bill that would alter the composition of the committee for the selection of judges. The goal is to complete legislation of this bill in the coming weeks, so as to influence the committee's composition ahead of its discussion of the appointment of Judge Noam Solberg to the Supreme Court.

Rivlin's decision to defer votes on prominent legislative proposals angered opposition MKs, since the postponement means that a series of economic bills sponsored by the opposition will not be brought to a vote in the Knesset next week. MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ) declared on Monday that Rivlin agreed to deferral requests forwarded by Arab and other MKs in an effort to placate parliamentarians, ahead of his own campaign to be elected President of Israel.