Gantz's Party Seeks New Civil Rights Legislation Ahead of Possible Election

Kahol Lavan plans to make bid to chalk up legislative achievements, deliver on election promise to moderate nation-state law as it faces prospective coalition collapse

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a visit to Jerusalem City Hall, November 10, 2020.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a visit to Jerusalem City Hall, November 10, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Benny Gantz's party announced Monday it intends to push through three pieces of legislation on equal rights, even without the consent of the rest of the governing coalition, in a bid to bolster its legislative record ahead of a possible election campaing – which would be Israel's fourth in roughly two years.

Kahol Lavan officials said they expect that at least one of the bills, a basic law on equal rights and the prevention of discrimination, could garner majority support in the Knesset, despite anticipated opposition within the coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

Also on Monday, Netanyahu stressed the need for "unity," arguing "the opposition will try to drag the State of Israel to needless elections" with an motion of no confidence to come for a Knesset vote on Wednesday.

In response, Gantz's party said: "The public is done buying Netanyahu's lies. If there wasn’t a trial, there would be a budget," referring to the prime minister's corruption trial and the failure to reach an agreement over the state budget.

Due to divisions within the coalition, including deadlock on a number of issues with Likud, the pieces of legislation are being introduced as private members’ bills, although they were originally slated as government-sponsored legislation that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Kahol Lavan had planned to introduce on behalf of his ministry.

A Kahol Lavan source said he viewed the announcement that the party would be proceeding with the private members’ bills as a sign that the party’s leadership preferred not to undermine the stability of the government coalition now, but instead use the coming months to build a legislative record before a possible dissolution of the Knesset in February or March.

In addition to the basic law on equality, which would have constitutional status, Kahol Lavan plans to introduce legislation that would expand the availability of surrogacy for prospective parents on an equal basis and expand the number of women who would qualify to carry the pregnancies. The third bill is a basic law on the Declaration of Independence, which would enshrine the obligation to interpret all legislation according to the principles in the declaration and give the declaration constitutional status.

“There’s no point in voting now on dissolution of the Knesset if we can pass several other bills and produce achievements that are important to us,” said one party source, who added that even if a compromise is reached that will permit the coalition to remain intact, Kahol Lavan will insist on advancing the legislation as part of the compromise.

Advancing a basic law on equal rights is the course of action Kahol Lavan chose to realize its election promise to soften the controversial nation-state law, which legally enshrined Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and said that the Jewish people have a unique right to national self-determination in it. Party officials said they do not plan to nullify the nation-state law, but rather to enshrine the value of equality as a law bearing the same status. The Supreme Court currently considers the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty to include the principle of equality, although it is not explicitly enshrined in it. The new bill would amend that law to add a section asserting that all are equal before the law and that there must be no discrimination. 

The chances of Kahol Lavan succeeding in getting the three bills through the four Knesset votes required to become law are not high. Their advancement in the Knesset is part of a public relations campaign by the party to rehabilitate its image with potential voters. “Even if the laws pass a preliminary and first vote, that is a significant symbolic achievement,” said a party source. In addition, if Kahol Lavan can get the bills to pass a first vote, it will be possible to pick them back up from the same point in the next Knesset if an election is called.

In July, members of Kahol Lavan voted against an amendment that sought to add the right to equality to the nation-state law. The proposal, tabled by lawmaker Gadeer Mreeh, who quit Kahol Lavan for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid when Gantz’s faction decided to join Likud in a coalition government, failed, with 21 voting in favor and 53 voting against it. Gantz missed the vote, as did several other members of Kahol Lavan.