Coalition Grabs Powerful Knesset Committees, Shunting Opposition to Lesser Panels

Despite opposition boycott and legal adviser's protest, Knesset approves formation of its committees in defiance of traditional power-sharing between government coalition and opposition

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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The Knesset Arrangements Committee
The Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on July 13. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

In a vote boycotted by the opposition, the Knesset approved the makeup of its permanent committees on Monday evening, after the government coalition defied power-sharing customs by wrestling control over the prestigious House, Finance and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees and pushing opposition lawmakers to lesser panels.

The move was sharply protested by the opposition, which snubbed the vote, and the formation was passed with 60 MKs voting in favor and none voting against. The opposition plans to continue boycotting committee activities in protest.

According to the rules of the Knesset, each party is allocated a number of committee seats according to its size. Traditionally, the coalition shares the most powerful committees with the larger parties of the opposition. However, the Knesset Arrangements Committee, the temporary committee responsible for forming the regular committees and allocating committee seats, appointed an especially large number of opposition MKs to certain committees with a lower stake in setting the agenda of Israeli politics: The Science Committee, with eight MKs from the opposition and only five from the coalition; the Immigration Committee, with eight members from the opposition and only five from the coalition; and Committee on the Status of Women with seven opposition MKs and three coalition MKs.

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Additionally, the coalition split a number of permanent committees to establish three new committees, filling them with opposition members: The Public Security Committee was split off from the Interior Committee; the Jewish Religious Services and National Projects Committee were also be split off from the Interior Committee; and the Health Committee was separated from the Labor and Welfare Committee.

This gives the coalition a larger majority on certain other committees it deems important: The Knesset House Committee, with a three-MK majority for the coalition; Finance Committee, with a majority of 2 MKs, and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, with a majority of two.

MK Nir Orbach (Yamina) will chair the Knesset House Committee, MK Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beiteinu) will head the Finance Committee, MK Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) will head the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Michael Biton (Kahol Lavan) will chair the Economic Affairs Committee, MK Saeed Alkharumi (United Arab List) will head the Interior and Environment Committee, MK Efrat Rayten (Labor) will head the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, MK Sharren Haskel (New Hope) will lead the Education, Culture and Sports Committee and MK Yair Golan (Meretz) will chair the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

The opposition will head three Knesset committees: The State Control Committee, as required by law; the Science and Technology Committee; and the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.

Arbel Esterhan, the legal adviser to the Knesset Arrangements Committee, criticized the new makeup of the committees: “The problematic thing in my eyes is the number of Likud MKs concentrated in a small number of committees … We would also propose to change the number of chair people of the committees,” meaning she would have liked to see the opposition chair more committees.

The opposition plans to boycott the committees in the near future. Opposition MKs also plan on boycotting meetings of the Knesset presidium, where the agenda is set for the sessions of the full Knesset. In any case, the Knesset is expected to start its summer recess in the second week of August, and it is possible the opposition’s protest will be renewed only after the recess, when the Knesset reconvenes in October after the Jewish holiday season.

Likud has said the party is considering petitioning the High Court of Justice against the decision on the makeup of the committees. But this is not too likely because of the low probability that the High Court would intervene on the matter, and also because the opposition and Likud party whip, MK Yariv Levin, vehemently opposes turning to the High Court over internal conflicts in the Knesset.

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