Likud Sanctions Lawmakers Who 'Broke Ranks' on Coronavirus, LGBTQ Rights Vote

Netanyahu backs move to remove head of the Knesset coronavirus committee, penalize others, saying 'Without discipline Likud can’t govern'

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud), head of the Knesset’s ad hoc Coronavirus Committee, July 2020.
MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud), head of the Knesset’s ad hoc Coronavirus Committee, July 2020.Credit: Adina Veldman / Knesset Spokesperson Unit
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has dismissed MK Yifat Shasha-Biton from her position as head of the Knesset coronavirus committee over her refusal to approve last week’s cabinet’s decision to close gyms and pools. Coalition whip Miki Zohar, who informed Shasha-Biton of the decision, said he was dissatisfied with her performance.

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In response to her dismissal, Shasha-Biton said that she had acted according to her conscience. “The prime minister’s decision is meant to prevent serious debates and conversations, to avoid listening to the public and prevent the voicing of other voices.”

In addition to dismissing Shasha-Biton, Zohar imposed penalties on 12 Likud lawmakers who did not vote against the bill prohibiting so-called conversion therapy. Penalties will include a prohibition on proposing bills until the end of this Knesset session some time in August. Zohar wrote: “My role and obligation is to ensure the survival of the coalition. Coalition discipline has slackened lately, making it harder for us to work for the people of Israel. In consultation with the prime minister it was decided to impose sanctions on those who broke ranks, as was done by previous governments. I regret that there are people who cannot take criticism, choosing to take steps that lead to internal strife.”

Coalition chairman Miki Zohar at the Knesset in January 2020.

Twenty-one of the 36 Likud lawmakers absented themselves during the vote on the law prohibiting conversion therapy. The MKs who were penalized include cabinet members Yoav Gallant, Yisrael Katz, Amir Ohana, Eli Cohen, Ofir Akunis, and MKs Shasha-Biton, Shlomo Karhi, Keren Barak, Sharren Haskel, Avi Dichter, Michal Shir Segman and Uzi Dayan.

Netanyahu announced his decision to remove Shasha-Biton from her post 10 days ago. She had argued that there was insufficient data on the incidence of infections in pools and gyms and excluded those venues from the cabinet’s decision on closures. At the end of the committee meeting, Zohar yelled at her: “You’re finished! We’ll replace you.” After Netanyahu’s announcement, alternate prime minister Benny Gantz said he would challenge this decision.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu publicly backed Zohar’s decision to sanction lawmakers in a tweet, saying: “Without discipline Likud can’t govern, particularly not during the coronavirus crisis... I ask all Likud members to show responsibility and stay within the party’s line.”

Replacing Shasha-Biton required the approval of the Knesset House Committee, which is headed by MK Eitan Ginzburg (Kahol Lavan). The committee has 11 coalition and 5 opposition members, four of them from Kahol Lavan. Even if they abstain from voting, the Likud has a majority. Moreover, the coalition agreement gives Likud the authority to determine its representatives on various committees, without Kahol Lavan having any say in the matter.

MK Karhi (Likud) assailed Zohar for his decision, saying that he was operating “mendaciously and manipulatively, in order to promote himself. Zohar has said that he is after power, money and dignity, which is in contrast to Likud values. A bit of humility wouldn’t hurt him,” said Karhi. “Zohar is causing a split in Likud, hurting the party and the prime minister. He should leave now.”

MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beiteinu) said that the dismissal shows Likud as petty. “They’re motivated by fear, hysteria and personal vengeance,” she said.

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