Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Reflections from Inside the Knesset

Last Wednesday marked the end of the summer term of the Knesset. In parliamentary lingo, the summer and winter sessions of the Knesset are each known individually as a kennes, or gathering, while an entire year of legislative activity is known as a moshav.

Allow me to let you in on another little secret: In the State of Israel, work in the Knesset comes with excellent terms. A work week in the Knesset is only three days long: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Mondays, the debates in the Knesset plenum began at 4:00 in the afternoon and generally consist of no-confidence motions against the government. Every large party is entitled to submit a no-confidence motion all week long, and the small parties may do so once a week. This political combination often results in strange alliances: Meretz with Yahadut HaTorah, for example. The two together are considered a large party and can therefore submit no-confidence motions all week long.


Those motions, however, are futile, since there is no chance of them being accepted. There are several reasons for this. First, by nature, the coalition always has a majority. Second, in any event, even if the members of the coalition were to be absent from the discussions, a motion of no confidence in the government would never be accepted due to a change in the law several years ago that requires a majority of 61 Knesset members in order for it to be accepted. The opposition, of course, will never be able to amass 61 votes from within its ranks.


On Tuesdays, as well, the discussions in the Knesset began at 4 p.m. Tuesdays are generally uneventful in the Knesset, since the rules call for government law to be discussed then, and almost no such laws have been debated in this Knesset. As a result, a wide variety of “special” debates have been held, including a “day for the elderly,” “Alzheimer’s day,” “the day of the war on drugs,” and so forth.


Wednesdays, when the Knesset begins at 11:00 in the morning, are the days when the Knesset members generally work hardest. These are the days devoted to the discussion of laws submitted by Knesset members and the days when the legislators deliver speeches on various subjects. Little is accomplished even on Wednesdays, however, since the majority in the coalition rejects every legislative initiative proposed by the opposition, even if it is an excellent law. The Knesset members have a chance to let off some steam on Wednesdays, shouting and protesting, but they can do little more than that.


All in all, the Knesset is not a bad place to work. Last Wednesday, for instance, the Knesset concluded its work and began its summer vacation. It will not be returning to work until after Sukkos. Likewise, at the end of every winter, the Knesset goes on vacation before Purim and returns to work after Yom Haatzmaut, on the fifth of Iyar. The result is a vacation that is almost two months long. I once flippantly remarked to someone that the Knesset is the only workplace in the world where the employees wish each other a good new year when they leave for Tisha B’Av.


As we mentioned, the coalition today has the habit of rejecting every law proposed by the opposition, even a worthwhile one. One of the most noteworthy examples of this parliamentary absurdity is the subject of the law concerning zero percent VAT for housing. Several months ago, Yisroel Eichler, the representative of Belz in Agudas Yisrael and a Knesset member from the Yahadut HaTorah party, proposed this law. It was his own idea, and it was an excellent idea, which would have benefited homebuyers. But Mickey Levy, the deputy finance minister, delivered a stinging response from the Knesset podium, explaining why the proposal was wrong, twisted, and potentially damaging to the economy. In a thundering, impassioned voice, he declared that the proposal would have no positive effects, and that the only people who would benefit from lowering the tax on an apartment purchase are contractors, who would simply raise their prices by the same amount buyers would save on taxes. Two months ago, however, Yair Lapid, the Minister of Finance, made a festive announcement at a news conference about “his” brilliant, innovative plan to support the middle class by canceling the Value Added Tax on the purchase of a first apartment by young couples. Suddenly, the shunned proposal had become a praiseworthy one that would be a boon to many families.


It should also be noted that Lapid, out of his great enmity toward the chareidi public, made every effort to ensure that chareidim would not benefit from his initiative by limiting it to individuals who served in the IDF. Upon being told by legal experts that the discrimination against chareidim (and Arabs) would not stand up in court, Lapid amended the law to make it possible for them to take advantage of the tax break as well, albeit only when purchasing a home valued at 600,000 NIS or less. After the decision was made, it came to light that it was nothing more than a slick deception, since no apartments exist at that price. There was a massive outcry, Lapid came under fire, and the sum was raised to 900,000 NIS. Chareidim continued working until the very last day of the Knesset’s summer session to organize the opposition to fight Lapid, and the sum was raised again, to one million NIS. In response, last Wednesday, July 30, on the very last day of the summer session, the Knesset members from Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, boycotted the Knesset’s session.


This appears to be an indication of weakness in the coalition. The prevailing sense in the Knesset is that this coalition won’t last much longer. It is only because of the current warfare that the internal conflicts have abated, but, in principle, the glue binding the various factions in the present coalition together has nearly worn off, and the swords have already been drawn. The widespread consensus in the Knesset is that new elections are on the horizon.


This government, the 33rd, began its tenure on March 18, 2013, almost a year and a half ago. That has been enough time to test its commitments and declarations. And if we put all of its stated intentions to the test, it unquestionably deserves a failing grade – a zero, in fact. Yair Lapid, for instance, rode on the waves of protest that tore through the country two years ago. He promised to bring about a revolution in the lives of the middle class. Today, he is viewed as an absolute failure in most areas, particularly in this one. But he did succeed in one thing: removing the chareidim from the circle of decision-makers within the government. Lapid had a motto: “I will not enter a government with chareidim.” And that was a promise he kept, with the help of Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party. It is not clear how this worked, however. Nowhere else in the world would anyone dare ostracize an entire sector of the population, but in Israel of 2013, it happened.


During that time, Naftali Bennett referred to Lapid as “my brother.” They were repeatedly seen hugging and smiling together. A few months ago, though, Bennett announced that he no longer considered Lapid his “brother.” Now he was only a “cousin.” And recently, Lapid lost even his cousin status. Relations between the two have completely cooled.


The same is true of the relations between Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi Netanyahu. The former has already announced that their respective parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, will run separately in the next elections. Lieberman has loudly criticized Netanyahu during the current fighting. Deputy Defense Minister Dani Danon, whose criticism was less fierce, was meanwhile fired from his job by Netanyahu.


From the perspective of the chareidi community, this has been a bad government and a bad Knesset. We — meaning the Shas party, with its eleven MKs, and Yahadut HaTorah, the combination of Agudas Yisroel and Degel HaTorah, with its seven — have not been able to wield any influence. Attacks on the chareidi world have taken place regularly during this time. We all watched despondently, helplessly. The new draft law was forced upon us. We fought like lions, but we lost the battle. And the same happened with all the budget cuts to the yeshivos, and all of the terrible plots hatched in the office of Shai Piron from Lapid’s party. And of course, we cannot fail to mention the many initiatives aimed at changing the status quo in the State of Israel. Kashrus, Shabbos, geirus, rabbinic authority and botei din have all come under fire through anti-religious laws. Naturally, we all daven for this coalition of iniquity to disband once and for all.



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