Education Minister Naftali Bennett had a polished, well-organized plan: The bill to destroy the Supreme Court’s independence (henceforth, the override bill) would be approved in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by a large majority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his eyes on his right-wing base, wouldn’t dare veto it. And Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon wouldn’t dare appeal the decision to the cabinet; his eyes are fixed on his voters in south Tel Aviv.
In the Knesset, Bennett thought, Kahlon would let Kulanu members vote their conscience for the reason noted above, and six or seven of the party’s 10 Knesset members would support it. The most extreme version of the bill – which would effectively let governing coalitions enact legislation immune to judicial review by authorizing a bare majority of 61 Knesset members to reenact laws overturned by the High Court of Justice – would then pass, and all the state’s troubles would be solved. The court would no longer be able to put a spoke in the government’s wheels, and Israel would become paradise.
But Sunday’s events raise suspicions that the Habayit Hayehudi chairman miscalculated about one of the drama’s three key actors: Kahlon refused to play the role Bennett assigned him. Granted, he didn’t appeal, but he announced unequivocally that he would force all Kulanu members to oppose the bill in the Knesset. Both his oral and written press statements also gave his opinion of the education and justice ministers and Habayit Hayehudi’s other politicians: “a gang of extremists” that’s just out to win votes.
Thus Kahlon once again found himself doing a job for which he assuredly didn’t create his party or demand the Finance Ministry and other economic portfolios: playing gatekeeper for the legal system and democracy, which are under unbridled attack by the right-wing coalition.
Habayit Hayehudi celebrated its victory in the ministerial committee on Sunday. But as long as Kahlon keeps his promise, the override bill is destined for the deep freeze. It has no chance of passing this Knesset.
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Netanyahu, who wanted another week to broker a compromise, admittedly capitulated to right-wing pressure by not vetoing the committee vote, but the work of the righteous is done by others – in this case Kahlon. That’s assuming Netanyahu doesn’t want to head into early elections riding a missile against the legal system.
All of Bennett’s maneuvering on this issue was meant to embarrass Netanyahu and undermine his popularity with the right. But so far, his success has been limited. The bill won’t be brought for a Knesset vote on Wednesday if there’s no majority for it.
Kahlon urged Netanyahu on Sunday to impose order on the coalition. But he didn’t just ask nicely. His order that all Kulanu members vote against the bill in the Knesset was meant to put party minister Yoav Galant, who voted for it in the committee, in his place. Galant’s wink at Netanyahu’s Likud was so blatant it’s a wonder his eyes didn’t pop out of their sockets.