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A Bill Against Netanyahu to Embarrass Kahol Lavan

Israel's opposition leader makes a great move, using the legislative process to score points at the expanse of his ally-turned-rival at exactly the right time

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a government meeting, Jerusalem, June 28, 2020.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a government meeting, Jerusalem, June 28, 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

By tabling a bill that has little chance to pass at exactly the right time, Yesh Atid-Telem, the political faction headed by opposition leader Yair Lapid, has dealt a heavy blow to fomer ally Kahol Lavan.

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The bill itself aims to bar anyone charged with a crime from running for prime minister. On the surface, it hopes to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in the middle of a trial on multiple charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust, from running for office in yet another election.

But the real party likely to suffer from the move is Yesh Atid-Telem's former political ally, Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan. During the three election campaigns Israel was subjected to in the last 18 months, Gantz repeatedly promised he would pass such a law - and yet Kahol Lavan already announced they will not back the bill. Here is why.

Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 13, 2020.
Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 13, 2020.Credit: Adina Waldman / Knesset Spokesperson's Office

What did Kahol Lavan exactly say?

On Tuesday, Kahol Lavan said it wouldn’t participate in Wednesday's preliminary vote.

“Our position in principle has not changed and will not change, but at this time [the bill] is only an attempt to destabilize the entire political establishment,” a party statement said.

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Why is that?

Kahol Lavan is ensnared in a trap: On the one hand, it has committed itself in the last election to advance legislation to prevent Netanyahu from serving as prime minister once he’s indicted. On the other, Likud has presented an ultimatum to Kahol Lavan whereby any support for Yesh Atid’s bill will lead to the collapse of the coalition and a new election.

Kahol Lavan does not want to allow Netanyahu to make them responsible for destroying the government and holding a fourth election in less than two years. As part of the “blame game” between the two parties, Kahol Lavan wants the clear reason to dissolve parliament to be Netanyahu’s opposition to a two-year budget which amounts to a violation of the coalition agreement. In such a situation it would appear that Gantz could demand to head the government for the duration of the election period.

Has Kahol Lavan considered supporting the bill?

Kahol Lavan has deliberated in recent days whether or not to support the bill. There is concern about any additional erosion of the party's image in light of its electoral promises on the issue. In addition, some argue that dissolving parliament is unavoidable and it would be best to try to restrict Netanyahu via legislation.

On the other hand, there are those in the party who fear being blamed for dissolving the government and argue that, in any case, the chances of winning final approval for the bill are slim.

Would the bill have a majority if Kahol Lavan supported it?

If 14 lawmakers from Kahol Lavan were to defect and support the opposition's motion, then the bill may wind up with a solid enough majority to win a preliminary vote.

On the flip side, if the bill is defeated on Wednesday, it would be frozen for half a year, meaning it could not be put to a vote again during that period.

Yair Lapid, left, and Benny Gantz, right, go for a hug during a Kahol Lavan campaign event, before they bitterly split, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.
Yair Lapid, left, and Benny Gantz, right, go for a hug during a Kahol Lavan campaign event, before they bitterly split, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

What is Yesh Atid’s interest here?

For Yesh Atid, any result would be a victory: Kahol Lavan’s support for the bill would signal a collapse of the coalition and give opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is doing well in opinion polls, a significant achievement.

A Kahol Lavan abstention or opposition to the bill would embarrass Yesh Atid’s main rival and paint Kahol Lavan again as a party betraying its principles for the sake of cabinet seats. Sources in Kahol Lavan expressed hope that Yesh Atid would delay the vote for two weeks, until a decision is made on the budget so that it would be understood where Netanyahu is headed and how to increase the chances of persuading Kahol Lavan to support the measure.

If the bill passes a preliminary vote, what are the chances of it going on to win final approval?

In practical terms, the chance of Yesh Atid and Kahol Lavan succeeding at getting the bill passed into law is not great. Likud has two central points of influence which it can use to prevent the legislation from advancing.

Firstly, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin can make it difficult to get the item on the agenda. Secondly, as the ruling party, Likud can apply heavy pressure on the Knesset committees to prevent debates from being scheduled, which could stymie the process of advancing the bill to a final Knesset vote. It would seem possible for the opposition to petition the High Court to permit the bill to be voted on but it’s not clear whether the justices would agree to intervene in the legislative process.

Protesters asking for the government's resignation wear masks of Netanyahu, left, and Benny Gantz, right, Jerusalem, August 8, 2020.
Protesters asking for the government's resignation wear masks of Netanyahu, left, and Benny Gantz, right, Jerusalem, August 8, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

If the bill doesn’t pass, then what happens? Will another party be able to put a similar measure on the agenda in order to bypass the half year freeze?

If the bill is defeated on Wednesday, Yesh Atid cannot put it to a vote for another six months. But in effect there is another similar measure which aims to achieve the same goal.

While Lapid’s bill seeks to bar any suspect of a crime of moral turpitude from running for prime minister, another lawmaker from Yesh Atid, Mickey Levy, recently introduced a bill that would permit suspending any lawmaker against whom a serious indictment has been filed. Since a prime minister must also be a lawmaker, this measure could also bar Netanyahu from serving for another term were it to be passed into law. Yesh Atid could pull out this proposal at any point in the coming weeks and it may do so if the coalition crisis worsens and Kahol Lavan finds another election is unavoidable.

Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, sitting, talk to Labor leader and coalition partner Amir Peretz, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, August 5, 2020.
Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, sitting, talk to Labor leader and coalition partner Amir Peretz, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, August 5, 2020.Credit: Adina Waldman / Knesset Spokesperson's Office

From a political standpoint, Yesh Atid chose to put forward Lapid’s measure at a perfect point in time: It has succeeded in pouring more oil on the fire of the ever-worsening confrontation among the coalition partners and to embarrass its main rivals, Kahol Lavan and junior coalition partner Labor, in the eyes of their supporters.

In effect this may turn out to be the last chance to bring the bill to a vote if the government does fall within the next two weeks, and the Knesset is then dissolved. If the coalition delays the deadline for a vote on the budget then the confrontation would be delayed until November. By then, the Knesset would in any case be in winter recess and Yesh Atid would be unable to have the bill put to a vote.

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