Israeli Lawmakers Vote Down Bills Meant to Undermine Netanyahu-Gantz Coalition

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Coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud) standing behind Benny Gantz at the Knesset, July 2020
Coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud) standing behind Benny Gantz at the Knesset, July 2020Credit: עדינה ולמן / דוברו

The Knesset voted down Wednesday two controversial bills meant to destabilize the already fraught coalition formed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan. 

A majority of Israeli lawmakers voted against the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair, the first in a string of bills to be presented on in an effort to undermine the already fraught coalition between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The probe would have focused on two deals Israel signed with German industrial group ThyssenKrupp some five years ago – one to buy three submarines for 1.5 billion euros, and another to buy missile ships to protect Israel’s offshore gas fields for 430 million euros. Several senior officers, civil servants and associates of Netanyahu have been charged with bribery over these deals, but the premier was never investigated as a suspect in the case.

Last year, Gantz demanded the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the deals, calling them “the worst case of defense-related corruption in Israel’s history” and accusing Netanyahu of “enabling trafficking in our security for the sake of personal profit.” 

A vast majority also voted down a bill presented by the right-wing Yamina alliance which, if passed, would have allowed the Knesset to override High Court of Justice rulings. The presentation of the bill was meant to embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. 

Under the bill, presented by Yamina's Ayelet Shaked, the Knesset, with a majority of 61 MKs, could pass a law that had been struck down by the High Court. The High Court would be allowed to overturn a law only with a two-thirds majority of a panel of at least 11 justices. According to the proposed bill, only those who are directly linked to a certain ruling could petition against it with the High Court.

Shaked viewed the bill as "a special opportunity for lawmakers from the right-wing bloc to stop whining and stop judicial piracy.” Now that the bill was voted down, it can only be presented again in six months.

In theory, both Likud and the Haredi parties supported the override bill. But Kahol Lavan is opposed, and has veto power. Yamina’s attempt to push its own private member's bill was apparently a failed effort to try to lure right-wing lawmakers to break coalition discipline or embarrass them by forcing them to vote against it.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar has played a major role in fanning the flames. After Cyber and Digital Affairs Minister David Amsalem, who is also the cabinet-Knesset liaison, announced that the coalition would not support any legislation that doesn't concern the coronavirus crisis, Zohar on Sunday called on Netanyahu to allow lawmakers to vote in favor of the override bill because that's what Likud voters want, but on Wednesday admitted that Likud lawmakers will not be present during the vote.

Netanyahu's incitement and politicized police work

A protest outside Netanyahu's official residence calling to investigate the submarine affair, July 20, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Two more bills failed to pass on Wednesday: One presented by Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List, which called to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry following "incitement" against the courts by Netanyahu and several ministers; and another bill sponsored by Tamar Zandberg from the left-wing Meretz party, calling to probe political intervention in the work of Israel Police. 

Netanyahu is also required to be present at the Knesset and listen to opposition speeches, after 40 lawmakers gathered a requisite 40 signatures for him to do so.

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