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Democratic Only When They Have a Majority

Haaretz Editorial
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The Knesset plenum after the vote was annulled, October 21, 2020.
The Knesset plenum after the vote was annulled, October 21, 2020. Credit: Shmulik Grossman / Knesset Spokesperson
Haaretz Editorial

The Israeli legislature marked a new low on Wednesday. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) decided to revoke the results of a legal vote by the Knesset. All of this was because with the vote, the Knesset adopted an opposition measure to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry regarding the affair involving Israel’s purchase of submarines and other naval vessels.

It turns out that Likud is only democratic only when it is ensured a majority.

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Speaker Levin claims that Deputy Speaker Mansour Abbas ignored a government demand made by coalition whip Miki Zohar to hold a roll-call vote and that Abbas had also not properly announced that the initial vote was being held.

Levin himself took over chairing the debate at the session, ordering the revocation of the results of the first vote and the holding of a second vote. The second vote, which removed the commission of inquiry from the agenda – was boycotted by the opposition.

“I won’t allow the Knesset rules to be trampled upon. The underhanded move has been revoked,” Levin declared without a shred of self-awareness or shame.

Levin’s conduct is a clear violation of the Knesset rules, in the mafioso style that the ruling party has recently adopted. His conduct is not surprising; it’s entirely in keeping with his thuggish stance in a prior clash between the High Court of Justice and the Knesset – after the speaker at the time, Yuli Edelstein, refused to comply with the court’s instructions and hold a vote on a new Knesset speaker.

The Knesset rules state that only a minimum of 20 Knesset members or the government are authorized to demand a roll-call vote at a Knesset session. Coalition whip Zohar cannot be deemed as a representative of the government. In addition, it cannot be claimed that a representative of the government was not present at the session, because cabinet minister David Amsalem spoke prior to the vote.

And even if – as Knesset secretary Yardena Meller-Horowitz said – it is a Knesset practice that the coalition whip make the demand, it cannot be claimed that the person chairing the session has to grant the request.

Levin’s conduct reflects contempt for the law. It appears that for him, democracy is just a tool and that when it doesn’t benefit his faction, breaking the rules is permissible. Moreover, his strong opposition to a committee of inquiry into the submarine affair is puzzling. If Netanyahu’s actions were impeccable, why be afraid of an inquiry?

The joint statement by Levin and Abbas after they met on Wednesday that the revocation of the vote was justified does not change the fact that this was illegal conduct. The acting Knesset legal adviser should make it clear to Levin that the results from the first vote are valid and that the matter of the parliamentary committee of inquiry should be brought before the Knesset House Committee, as provided for in the rules.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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