Call to Order / Hot Potatoes and Loose Cannons

The Knesset winter session will open with a discussion of a law allowing the Jewish National Fund to sell land only to Jews

The winter session of the Knesset will kick off this morning with the Finance Committee's discussion of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) Law, which will allow the fund to continue leasing lands only to Jews. There is no doubt that the committee chair, Likud MK Gilad Erdan, set this meeting for 8:45 on the first morning of the session in order to convey a message of urgency and of Knesset involvement. After all, the High Court of Justice proceedings on this subject are already advanced.

This bill, which was submitted by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and another 20 MKs, has already experienced some dramatic moments. For example, the Knesset legal adviser, attorney Nurit Elstein, submitted an opinion that the Knesset presidency must reject only those bills "whose essential racism cries out to the heavens," and therefore need not reject the KKL bill. Sixty-four MKs supported the bill in its preliminary reading; many MKs consider this bill a discussion in principle of whether the Zionist struggle is over. And in the background, the question lingers: Does giving preference to Jews in the State of Israel constitute racism?

At the beginning of the summer recess, the bill was still targeted for discussion in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. But during the recess, Erdan asked to transfer the subject to the Finance Committee, and Constitution Committee chair Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) agreed. Thus, both sides came out ahead. Erdan will be able to demonstrate militant Zionism and receive quite a bit of media coverage, and Ben-Sasson, who explains his agreement as a factor of the workload in the committee, was probably not particularly sorry to pass on the hot potato. He hears enough of these kinds of issues in his committee.

Erdan says the chances the law will be ready for its first reading at the meeting's close are slim. He also estimates that before the bill passes, a number of compromises will be raised to enable the KKL to designate land for Jews only. One option is to revoke the arrangement of administrating lands via the Israel Lands Administration and to return their administration to the KKL. Another option is for the state to purchase about 1 million dunams of absentee lands from the fund that it sold to the KKL in the 1950s.

A time for ethics

The coalition already has a new chair: Eli Aflalo of Kadima. Kadima MK David Tal, who expected to receive the job, lost it mainly because he convinced the staff of the Prime Minister's Office that he's a loose cannon. It's hard to believe, but the main subject under dispute was Tal's demand to remove the director of the Kadima Knesset faction, Moshe Bibi, and to replace him with one of his own people. It's still not clear whether Tal will be appointed chair of the Knesset House Committee, or if that job will go to the former director general of the Education Ministry, Ronit Tirosh.

And why is it even a problem that the House Committee lacks a chair? One of the main reasons is that the new Knesset ethics code has been postponed for nine months. Ahead of the Knesset's birthday last Tu b'Shvat (in February), the Zamir Committee submitted its final report for the preparation of the Knesset code of ethics. During the winter session, the chair of the House Committee at the time, Ruhama Avraham-Balila, was torn between discussions on the subject of the incapacitation of the president and taking care of her ill father, and didn't have time to discuss the Zamir report. She promised to attend to it during the summer session, and started to do so. A joint committee of the House Committee and the Knesset Ethics Committee was formed to prepare a new code of ethics and even held several meetings. The meeting of the joint committee rated special media attention when it discussed the question of whether to establish a mandatory dress code for MKs, and among other things, whether to forbid them to come to the Knesset in sandals.

But last July, Avraham-Balila was appointed a minister without portfolio. Since then, the House Committee has had no chair, but at least it meets when necessary. The Ethics Committee has no chair, and has stopped meeting. Now it remains to be seen whom Olmert will prefer to disappoint, Tal or Tirosh. If the new chair really wants to do so, he will be able to finish the new code by this Tu b'Shvat.

The polluter will pay

The Knesset summer session was the session of education and culture laws. Among the laws passed under the direction of Knesset Education Committee Chair Michael Melchior (Labor) and former director general of the Education Ministry Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) were the extension of the Compulsory Education Law to the age of 18, the Student Rights Law and a law requiring that the budget for public libraries be increased by 50 percent.

At this session, Melchior hopes to pass the law for the supervision, licensing and training of caregivers of young children, which will probably be called the "nursery school law." Melchior says that at present "you need more permits to open a kiosk than to open a nursery school." He hopes to pass at first, second and third readings the law that will draw a clear division between caregivers who do not need a license and nursery schools that will be required to be licensed and be subject to supervision. There is still no agreement as to the boundary between the two; in other words, whether a caregiver will become a nursery school beginning with four children, as Melchior wants, or five, as the government wants.

Another law expected to pass the second and third readings in the coming days is the National Library Law. This law will provide the basis for removing the disintegrating National Library from Hebrew University and the construction of a new library. The Rothschild Foundation has already expressed its willingness to build a home for the library next to the Supreme Court and the Knesset, whose construction it also funded.

But apparently the winter session will be characterized by environmental laws. During the summer session, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), a member of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, made a concerted effort to pass environmental laws on first reading so that if the Knesset dispersed, the great amount of work invested in them would not go to waste.

During the winter session, he hopes to pass the following laws on second and third readings:

b The polluter-will-pay law, which will enable a court to charge a polluting factory and its executives high fines.

b The Gulf of Eilat law, which will impose the Coastal Law that now applies to the coasts of the Mediterranean and Lake Kinneret to the Eilat coast as well. Among other things, there will be a long and complicated planning procedure for carrying out construction on the Gulf of Eilat coastline.

b The clean-air law, which will require plants to take out permits for the emission of polluting substances and to pay significant sums for these permits, which will make polluting the air not economically worthwhile.