The Knesset opposition announced Sunday it will boycott this week’s votes on three controversial bills, which the ruling coalition wants to pass as a “package deal” before the Knesset recesses.
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The proposed laws, up for their final votes, are three of the coalition’s flagship bills – the governance law, which raises the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent; the law to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military; and the law requiring that withdrawal from Israeli-held territory first be approved in a referendum.
Heads of several opposition parties, including Labor’s Isaac Herzog, Shas’ Aryeh Deri, United Arab List – Ta’al’s Ahmed Tibi and United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, met yesterday afternoon to decide what steps to take in protest against the votes on the bills, and agreed to boycott them in the plenum.
The three bills are scheduled to be voted on one after the other in marathon sessions between this morning and Thursday at 2 A.M.
At the end of the opposition meeting, the party heads released a joint statement on the boycott. “Although the opposition is not homogenous, we are all united around the struggle for the preservation of democracy,” the statement read. “The coalition is weak and hysterical and no one in it trusts their neighbor, who is trying to pass fundamental laws using political brutality.”
Earlier in the day, coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) sent the coalition’s faction heads a letter calling on their parties to support all three bills. They were asked to sign the document in an attempt to head off any attempts by the various coalition factions to evade voting in favor of the controversial proposals.
Coalition sources said Levin’s action testifies to the high level of suspicion among the different parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. The attempt to make the party heads sign the letter is “taken from a movie about the underworld,” said Labor Knesset faction chairman MK Eitan Cabel. Herzog said the opposition would consider taking more drastic measures in view of what he called the government’s actions to silence the opposition.
Tension reached a peak after the Knesset House Committee allowed the coalition, over the opposition’s vehement objections, to take the rare step of setting a time limit on the debates, thus barring the possibility of a filibuster. The Knesset has only used this clause in its rules — Section 98 — to close off debate in emergencies, historic issues such as disengagement from Gaza, security issues or on passage of the state budget, never on routine legislation.
The governance law is due to be debated today from 11 A.M. and be voted on at 10 A.M. tomorrow. Debate on the military draft bill is due to begin tomorrow at 11 A.M., with the vote taking place Wednesday at 10 A.M. Debate on the referendum bill is slated to begin Wednesday and continue until the vote is taken at 2 A.M. Thursday.
The three bills are considered a package deal – a way to pressure coalition parties to pass all three. Coalition sources say that if not for the package deal, a majority of the coalition would vote against passing all three bills into law.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said he believes they all will pass, adding that if only one passes, it would mean “the immediate breakup of the coalition, and I think that none of the partners want that.”