Likud Pushes Forward Bill on Expanding Government

Ministerial portfolios will be handed to Likud MKs only after motion's approval – which depends on every single coalition MK voting for it.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to swear in his new cabinet Thursday, or at the latest by Monday. To this end, on Wednesday the new coalition will try to complete passage of a law removing all limits on the size of the cabinet.

Current law caps the cabinet at 18 ministers. Since the new government is slated to have more than that, including some ministers without portfolio, it can’t be sworn in until the repeal passes.

The repeal, which passed its first reading on Monday, must be approved by at least 61 Knesset members. This means every one of the coalition’s 61 MKs will have to vote in favor.

On Tuesday, an ad hoc Knesset committee set up to prepare the bill met late into the night to finalize it for its second and third readings.

“The work of establishing the present government proved that given Israel’s coalitionary structure, it’s difficult to impossible to abide by the 18-minister rule,” coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud) said on Tuesday. “I haven’t seen any convincing argument for abolishing the institution of minister without portfolio and setting the number of ministers at 18. I think it was a mistake to abolish this institution, and now, we want to correct this mistake.”

Wednesday’s Knesset debate on the bill is expected to be marathon, as opposition members have proposed hundreds of amendments in an effort to delay its passage. This is a routine opposition tactic for important bills, especially the annual budget.

Most of the amendments aren’t serious. One Meretz proposal, for instance, would amend the bill to state that its purpose is “to bolster Netanyahu’s rule,” while Yesh Atid proposed amending it to say its goal is “to employ as many cronies of Likud Central Committee members as possible.” The point of the tactic is simply to wear the coalition down in the hope that its members will then miss the truly important votes.

“The amendments are a protest,” explained MK Merav Michaeli (Labor). “Maybe they seem as if we’re making a mockery of the Knesset, but the one who’s really making a mockery of it is Netanyahu.”

Elkin, however, disagreed. “Opposition members have vied among themselves over who can come up with the most offensive wording of their amendments,” he said. “This hurts all of us, and I think everyone who proposes an amendment should be serious and hope it passes, and should be able to live with it if it passes.”

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) admitted during the plenum debate on the bill that had her party formed the government, it would also have tried to abolish the ceiling on the number of ministers.

“The question,” she continued, “is why we would have done the same thing and created the same ministries and jobs. For some reason, we haven’t heard even a word of the discourse that talks about goals, values and what we want to give the Israeli public, only about the fact that Bibi has to form a government.”

MK Yinon Magal (Habayit Hayehudi) similarly accused Zionist Union of hypocrisy. Turning to faction chairman Eitan Cabel, he said, “Yesterday, you published a Facebook post protesting the appointment of ministers without portfolio. MK Cabel, you were a minister without portfolio in 2007.”

Next, turning to party chairman and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, he added, “You’re talking about an inflated government of 20 ministers? You were a member of a government with 39 minister and deputy ministers!”

Finally, turning to Zionist Union’s number two, he said, “Tzipi Livni, you’re against political bribery? You were a member of the Sharon government, which in one evening bribed eight deputy ministers to expel Jews” from the Gaza Strip.

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