Speaker Adjourns Parliament, Israeli President Warns Him Against 'Undermining Democracy'

By preventing the formation of the organizing committee, Speaker Yuli Edelstein also hampers the formation of the Knesset oversight committees on the coronavirus crisis

Jonathan Lis
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President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.
President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis

President Reuven Rivlin warned Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud that paralyzing the Knesset harms the county's ability to function during an emergency.

The coronavirus crisis, Rivlin said, must not be allowed "to critically damage our democratic infrastructure."

The president's warning comes after lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan could not agree on forming the committees which govern the parliament's activities – two weeks after the elections were held.

Speaker Edelstein has adjourned the session until next Monday, an effective postponment of the Knesset's operations, which Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon later approved - although he was very critical of the move.

"Our constitutional obligation to form the parliament's organizing committee... and convene the new Knesset... is far greater in times of emergency, when Israel is facing a serious unprecedented health crisis with broad ramifications in various fields," Yinon wrote in a letter sent to Edelstein on Wednesday.

He joined the president in warning of the danger to Israel's democratic future, saying "the Knesset is not fulfilling the minimal obligations imposed on a parliament in a democratic regime to oversee the activities of the government." 

"If an agreement isn't reached by the beginning of next week,"  the letter added, "the Knesset would be obligated to prioritize the formation of the committee, without further ado."

Will Israel's cyber spies let Bibi use coronavirus to kill democracy?Credit: Haaretz

This comes right after the president tasked Gantz with forming a government, although the centrist leader still lacks a clear majority to form one. He does, however, hold a slight majority over Netanyahu's bloc. This advantage would have given him a majority in the important organizing committee.

One of the first steps Gantz took was to try to replace Edelstein. But Edelstein used his veto power to prevent that vote from taking place until the committees were formed.

By preventing the formation of the organizing committee, Edelstein also hampers the formation of the oversight committees on the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

Likud, on its part, claimed that due to coronavirus emergency regulations, the committee must include no more than ten lawmakers, with no majority for either side.

In an interview with Channel 12 News Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he would everything in his power to protect democracy. He added that while he is "managing the battle against the coronavirus, some only want to overthrow a prime minister who is on guard. This is the time to demonstrate national responsibility. We can and must form a government."

He accused Kahol Lavan of spreading "fake political news," and said the reason the organizing committee was not formed was that no agreement was reached between the coalition and opposition on its makeup, despite the fact that the 23rd Knesset does not yet have a governing coalition, and therefore, no opposition.

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