Knesset Votes Down Bill Meant to Prevent Talks on Jerusalem's Status

Opposition calls on prime minister to recognize gay rights, citing massive public support

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset Wednesday voted against a bill that would require the approval of at least 80 MKs as a precondition for negotiating over the status of Jerusalem. The purpose of the bill, which was submitted by MK Yaakov Litzman, the chairman of United Torah Judaism, was to bar the division of the city in any future peace agreement with Palestinians.

In a preliminary reading, 51 MKs voted against the draft law, 12 voted in favor and one abstained.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to approve the bill in October but an appeal against the motion by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has not been discussed yet, which means in theory that coalition members are not meant to support it.

Litzman pushed for a Knesset vote on the bill mainly in order to embarrass the coalition and its heads – Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and senior Likud MKs – who would support it if not for their obligations to the coalition.

Due to the recent conflicts among Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Likud, coalition whip Yariv Levin (Likud) threatened to permit Habayit Hayehudi and Likud MKs to support the bill if Yesh Atid submitted its controversial bill to give gay couples the same tax benefits that married straight couples receive.

The threat worked, Yesh Atid withdrew its bill and Levin did in fact impose coalition discipline in voting on the Jerusalem bill.

MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) was the only coalition member who voted for the bill. Several Likud and Habayit Hayehudi MKs did not show up for the vote, although they were in the Knesset building when the vote was taken. MK Pnina Tamano-Shata said she had received the permission of the chairman of her party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, to abstain from the vote despite Yesh Atid’s opposition to the bill.

Addressing the Knesset before the vote, Livni said the cabinet opposed the bill, which she called “a cynical attempt to use the most important place for every Jew in the world to embarrass the coalition.”

She said the bill would have stopped the talks with the Palestinians, which she said most Israelis support.

Calling out the PM

Opposition Knesset members used Wednesday’s plenary session to call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to openly state his stand, in Hebrew, on granting equal rights to the gay community in Israel.

As members of the LGTB community demonstrated outside the Knesset, MKs from the Labor Party and Meretz criticized the coalition for failing to pass legislation that would address this issue.

MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) noted the results of a survey conducted by Haaretz showing that 70% of the public supports granting full and equal rights to gays. She said that “this government does not support the community. Whereas 70% of the population lives in 2013, the government straggles behind, caught somewhere in the 19th century.”

Shaffir listed several failed legislative initiatives, which would have recognized civil unions of same-sex couples, prohibited discrimination in hiring based on gender and equalized “mortgage terms for same-sex couples.”

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) also assailed the prime minister: “In almost every major speech he’s given overseas in the last few years, he has used the LGTB community in Israel as a means to attack Iran. For that purpose we’re okay, showcasing Israel as a liberal paradise. I ask the prime minister what he has done to address the issue here. The truth is that for the last five years, during which he has headed the government, any advancement of the gay community toward full and equal legal rights has been frozen.”

MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) addressed the absent Netanyahu: “Mr. Prime Minister, why is it acceptable for you to say ‘gay’ in English, whereas you have never used the word ‘homosexual’ in any of your speeches?”

MK Michal Biran (Labor) turned to Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), saying, “One small thing you could do for this community lies in your hands − prevent the discrimination against gay couples when it comes to adoption. They are labeled as single-parent families and thus find themselves always at the bottom of the waiting list. Only if no suitable heterosexual couples are found do they stand a chance to adopt, even though abundant research has shown that homosexual parents and the home they provide are just as good as heterosexual parents? We can’t blame Habayit Hayehudi if this doesn’t happen.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said that “no one ever pinned their hopes on Habayit Hayehudi as a party that would advance gay rights. We had no illusions on this matter. However, we have a new horizon opening up here with a real political potential, an unusual opportunity to collaborate, without involvement of egos or credit seeking. The Labor Party, Yesh Atid, Meretz, Hatnua and parts of Likud and Hadash can get together as a majority and advance real rights and full equality for this community.”

Science Minister Jacob Perry, MK Moshe Gafni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid at the Knesset, December 18, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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