A marathon debate in the Knesset over the Bennett-Lapid rotation law began rancorously on Monday night as Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir called Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi a terrorist.
Ben-Gvir was forcefully removed from the Knesset podium after lashing out at Tibi and calling him "a terrorist who should be a member of the Syrian parliament."
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The confrontation erupted when Ben-Gvir refused to address Tibi as "Mr. Speaker" and ignored his instructions. When Tibi told Ben-Gvir that he was not following the orders of the Knesset speaker, the Kahanist lawmaker replied: "You are a terrorist. You will not shut me up."
The two began shouting at each other, and Tibi asked for Ben-Gvir to be removed from the podium. Ben-Gvir then struggled with Knesset ushers as they removed him.
Meanwhile, hoping to ensure that Yair Lapid succeeds Naftali Bennett as prime minister, the governing coalition is due to call for votes on key changes to Israel’s Basic Law of Government on Monday night, in what will likely devolve into a marathon struggle with legislators from the opposition.
The law, a crucial part of the coalition agreement that enabled the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government with a rotation of the premiership, has been pummeled with so many reservations that the Knesset speaker has allotted the opposition 15 hours of debate time. Therefore, the vote itself will probably only take place Tuesday evening.
The amendment includes two cases in which Lapid will become prime minister before the scheduled date of August 27, 2023.
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The first occurs if at least two Knesset members from the Bennett bloc, which comprises his Yamina Party and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, vote to dissolve the Knesset, thereby bringing about the collapse of the government.
The second occurs if the state budget for 2023-2024 doesn’t win Knesset approval. The amendment doesn’t address what happens if the 2021-2022 budget, due to be voted on by the Knesset in November, fails to pass.
The amendment will also enable the government to name an additional deputy minister to the Prime Minister’s Office. The post was promised to the United Arab List, which in any case doesn’t plan to name someone to it for the time being.
The coalition has backed down in recent days on several other critical changes it had planned to the Basic Law on Government and appear in the coalition agreements.
One is a clause that would bar the prime minister or alternate prime minister from taking part in any other government that might be formed during the current Knesset. The clause, which has been heavily criticized, was designed to ensure coalition stability and prevent Bennett from bringing down the government before the rotation goes into effect.
But Yamina and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party agreed to drop the clause after concluding it was unlikely to stand a court challenge. Even before signing the final coalition agreements, Bennett and Lapid decided against applying the clause not only on themselves but on the other coalition partners, too.
The Knesset will be in recess from August 8 to October 3. Before that, the coalition is committed to passing all the legislation required to implement the coalition agreements. In addition, the Religious Court Judges Law, which failed to win Knesset approval last week because Speaker Mickey Levy accidentally voted against it, is expected to come up for a re-vote before debate on the amendment gets underway.
The judges bill will change the composition of the judicial appointments' committee to include at least two women among its 13 members. The bill passed the first reading in the Knesset by a majority of 59 to 51 on Monday night. It must pass its second and third readings in order to be enacted later in the week.
Due to the absence of a Knesset majority, the coalition appears to be backing down from another piece of legislation that would decriminalize cannabis use. The United Arab List opposes the law on religious grounds, which under the coalition agreement releases the party from any obligation to support it.
The government planned to put the legislation up for a vote on Wednesday, but will now only do so if it receives additional support from the opposition. However, for now the opposition categorically refuses to help the coalition, even though in principle it supports the bill. The bill will come up again in the Knesset winter session.
The one exception to government plans to pass all legislation necessary to implement the coalition agreements is a law on term limits for the prime minister. The coalition partners had promised to fast-track the bill, but disagreements over wording have arisen. For now, there are no plans to introduce the legislation.
During the winter session, the coalition hopes to amend the Basic Law on Government to bar the president from awarding a mandate to form a government to anyone facing criminal indictment. However, this legislation is also facing serious disagreements over its wording and may not ever come up for a vote.
Disclosure: The writer is the son of lawmaker Zvi Hauser from New Hope.