It's Time for a New Knesset Speaker

Knesset Speaker and senior Likud MK Yuli Edelstein.
Yitzhak Harari / Knesset spokesperson's office

Israelis woke up Sunday morning to discover that while they were sleeping the justice minister ordered the courts closed except for urgent hearings. Under the cover of the new coronavirus, Amir Ohana, an interim minister in an interim government, simply shut down the judicial system. Later in the day it was announced that the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday, was postponed by two months.

A few hours later, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced that he would not permit the Knesset to choose a replacement for him. Edelstein said “The time for petty politics is over” and declared that he wouldn’t facilitate “a consensus-breaking move whose aim is to make opportunistic grabs in the legislature.”

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It’s hard to think of a more obvious grab in the legislature. The decision on whether to place an issue on the Knesset agenda is indeed reserved exclusively for the speaker, but his decision to use this authority to deny the Knesset the legitimate opportunity to replace him is certainly underhanded opportunism. It’s not the first time Edelstein has used his authority for decidedly unstatesmanlike reasons, directly connected to Netanyahu’s legal troubles. Not long ago he tried to torpedo a vote on convening the Knesset House Committee to hear the prime minister’s request for parliamentary immunity, and he would have succeeded if not for the intervention of Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon.

Kahol Lavan has decided to focus on trying to replace Edelstein with one of its own MKs so it can advance bills prohibiting a criminal defendant from serving as prime minister and imposing term limits on the office of prime minister. But Edelstein, who is fulfilling a state position, decided to exploit his position and pimp out his authority, and to hell with propriety. All this to prevent regime change at any price and to block legislation that would stop the corruption that has become the hallmark of the ruling party and the man who heads it.

“The order of the day for the State of Israel is a broad unity government,” declared Edelstein, as if anyone had asked him. “The coronavirus crisis is not the only reason such a government is needed. The need was born long before the virus erupted.” The Knesset has dragged the public through three elections in a year and 61 MKs told President Reuven Rivlin they preferred that Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz be asked to form the next government, but Edelstein has decided that the order of the day is a broad government, so he is barricading himself into his seat and refusing to be replaced.

The strength of a state is measured by how it conducts itself during emergencies, when its principles are put to the test. The coronavirus crisis makes it even more important to respect the clear majority in the Knesset that recommended Gantz and is seeking a new speaker.

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