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March 10, 2014 Coaltion Tries to Pass New Basic Laws

The news in Israel has been dominated by a number of internal stories. The biggest item today is a strange, almost non-story. This morning, a popular newscaster, began his broadcast saying that the Knesset was engaged in a fearsome debate on new laws, to control the cost of food, to deal with the price of housing and to deal with the problems of Israeli pensions... Sadly, he was joking. Those are the things people care about. Instead, the Knesset has torn itself apart over three laws that (for the moment) only the politicians seem to care about: 1) The law to raise the percent of votes required to get into the Knesset, 2) A law requiring a national referendum before land is returned, and 3) A law relating to draft of the Haredim. Mind you, I have opinions on all of these laws – and they are all problematic. However, neither of the first two laws is urgent at the moment. Furthermore, the third law is only urgent because there currently is no law governing drafting of the Haredim. As a result, at the moment, the government has no legal basis to continue deferring their draft.

Each of the three laws currently under debate are babies of different members of the coalition and other members of the coalition oppose them. Since various members of the coalition oppose different aspects of each of the proposed laws and do not trust one another, the government is employing a rarely used emergency rule to pass all three laws together. All of the opposition parties have banded together and have decided to boycott the Knesset meetings – since there is nothing they can do to stop the passing of these bills. Shas, Yahadut Hatorah, Meretz, and the Labor Party (needless to say, joined by the Arab parties) have been working together. The new cooperation between the religious parties with the Labor and Meretz parties may be only tactical. However, the Ultra-Orthodox parties have been taking a very different stance – Stating they tired of supporting the right-wing parties, as they no longer believe in supporting settlements. It’s not clear where this will take us. Though it could result in a major electoral shift in the not to distant future.

Meanwhile, let's look at the decisions themselves: First, both the decision on a plebiscite, and the decision on changing the number of voters required to get into the Knesset are very problematic on a procedural basis. They are both amendments to what are considered "Basic Laws", (i.e. the closest thing this country has to a Constitution.) If, however, you can change Basic Laws by a mere 61 votes, it makes a mockery of any type of Democratic guarantee. For if you only need a basic majority to change basic (foundational) laws, then their really is no real protection for the minority view in this country.

As to the actual content of the laws: Both Lapid’s party and Lieberman party talk about how important the electoral reform of requiring a larger threshold to get into the parliament is for our system. Unfortunately, this proposed change can hardly be called "electoral reform". This new law does not do anything to make the Knesset any more responsive to the voter – just the opposite. The claim by its supporters is that the change will make the government more stable. However, there is no proof of that. The small parties have never toppled a government. The only thing it will do is ensure an even greater control by the majority over the minority. The new law will also force the Arab parties to unite.

As to the requirement to have a referendum on any agreement to give up land.. I do not think that is a bad idea – If we reach an agreement to require a national referendum. However, the current legislation requires both a vote in the Knesset, and then a referendum. it should be one, or the other, NOT both.


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