Analysis

With Shabbat Bill, Netanyahu's Likud Isn't Shooting Itself in the Foot. It's Shooting Itself in the Head

The attempt to expel a lawmaker from the party for abstaining from the unpopular ‘supermarkets bill’ vote proves that Netanyahu cares only about his own survival

Netanyahu and Minister Dery durign a cabinet meeting in December, 2017.
Marc Israel Sallem

Three decades ago, leader Yitzhak Shamir stood in front of the Likud Central Committee and wailed that the party had lost its mind. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives new meaning to that historic protest almost every week. Time and again he drags his party to new lows – both moral and ethical – and seems to cross new lines of the previously unthinkable.

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The attempt to expel MK Sharren Haskel from Likud’s ranks because of her decision Sunday to abstain from voting on the so-called supermarkets bill – which would regulate the commerce permitted in Israel on Shabbat – is symptomatic of something even more serious: political intimidation and bullying.

Lately, it’s become a thing to expel people from Likud, which is still formally called “Likud – the National Liberal Movement.” The “new Likud” members who wanted to restore the party to its former glory? Out. Party members who had the gall to participate in the Petah Tikva protest against corruption and foot-dragging in the police investigation against Netanyahu? Out. Hardly a day passes when this doomsday weapon isn’t wielded.

Netanyahu’s high executioner is MK David Amsalem. Barely a month since his appointment as Likud faction leader and governing coalition whip, Amsalem has done something none of his predecessors resorted to: Petitioning the party tribunal to expel a sitting Knesset member for something she hasn’t even done – the Knesset vote on the bill is set to take place on Monday.

MK David Amsalem (Likud), left, with Shas Chairman Arye Dery in a Knesset committee session, June 2016.
Emil Salman

Amsalem could punish Haskel using his authority as faction chairman – for instance, by booting her off a committee. And he isn’t moving to expel her through the Knesset House Committee for a simple reason: The rules state that this grave sanction can only be used against an MK who votes against a resolution by his own party (or against the state budget or, in the case of a coalition member, in favor of a no-confidence motion in the government).

Haskel wants to abstain from Monday’s vote, which is a common practice in the Knesset. MKs whose conscience cannot live comfortably with a given bill simply vanish from the Knesset hall during the vote. Usually, their party whips live with it. Very occasionally, they punish the recalcitrant MK by banishing them from a committee.

MK Sharren Haskel making her maiden speech in the Knesset, September 2015.
Lior Mizrahi

Amsalem’s move, seemingly with the blessing of the Prime Minister’s Office, is extreme to the point of being downright insane.

Its purpose, of course, is to intimidate Haskel. She wasn’t supposed to have a conscience. Yet when Amsalem himself threatened to topple the government in the 2017-2018 state budget vote unless Netanyahu found the money to bring over more Falashmura Jews from Ethiopia, he justified it on reasons of conscience and even sought our applause.

The law regulating commerce on Shabbat is not popular among Likud members and their elected officials, who believe it will cause them electoral harm. Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis even pointed out in the Knesset that the bill isn’t the brainchild of the Likud party. Rather, it comes from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which is coercing the rest of the coalition into supporting it. As far as Likud is concerned, voting for the bill is shooting itself not in the foot but the head.

The only thing Netanyahu cares about is his own personal survival, not the interests of his party. All he wants is to shore up his power and appease his coalition partners, who have zeroed in on his weaknesses and extort and extort, dictating his every step.

For Haskel, this is a gift from the gods. She’s a political unknown, having placed 31st on the Likud slate. Yet courtesy of Messrs. Amsalem and Netanyahu, she has won media attention worth its weight in gold. They made her a national figure and may well have paved her way to the 21st Knesset.