Plenty has been written about the lifeline that Kahol Lavan chief Benny Gantz has provided to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s indicted prime minister. Less has been written about the noose the two of them have wrapped around the Knesset’s neck.
In the midst of one of the most serious crises in the country’s history, the governing coalition has pushed through nearly all its members’ whims, starting with the Shin Bet security service tracking people’s cellphones and ending with severe restrictions on anti-Netanyahu protesters during the last lockdown. Under the guise of in-depth discussions, the Knesset committees have become panels for doing the government’s bidding, while the full Knesset has become a rubber stamp for legislation put forward by the fractious coalition.
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Yifat Shasha-Biton, the Knesset coronavirus committee chief who is leaving Likud for Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, learned the hard way that it’s best not to confront the executive branch. Days after she got the committee to cancel the regulations closing gyms and pools, the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition worked to rid her panel of any authority. Since then, while the coronavirus committee remains a platform for experts who oppose the way the government is handling the health crisis, Shasha-Biton and her colleagues have had only marginal influence.
The Knesset committees with the power to overturn the government’s regulations have rarely challenged cabinet decisions, and even when they have, they have come up short.
The Education Committee, headed by Ram Shefa (Kahol Lavan), sought to reopen the preschools against the government’s wishes but failed. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz), threatened to cancel the Shin Bet tracking but backed off. And the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by Yakov Asher (United Torah Judaism), wanted to let small businesses operate during the last lockdown but withdrew on the recommendation of legal advisers.
The deterioration of the Knesset’s standing didn’t begin with the current Knesset. During the years of Netanyahu’s rule, the legislature has lost its strength. Lawmakers aren’t permitted to vote according to their conscience, and Knesset committees have become subcontractors. This trend has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, a few days after the Knesset dissolved and after months of foot-dragging, Kahol Lavan decided to show some muscle: Education Committee chief Shefa and opposition legislators managed to overturn the decision to send fifth- through 10th-graders back to distance learning. This was a wise decision that will allow all students from fifth grade up to stay in school in “green” communities, which have low infection rates.
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While this step is too little, too late, it provides a vital reminder to Israelis of the importance of a strong and functioning Knesset.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.