Lapid, Bennett at odds again over gay benefits bill

Lapid, Bennett at odds again over gay benefits bill

As coalition squabbles, Yesh Atid forges ahead with a proposal already vetoed by the Jewish Home, which weighs reprisal

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, November 5, 2013 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, November 5, 2013 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Amid deepening tensions in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, two of the prime minister’s main partners in the government are locking horns again over a controversial bill that would extend to gay couples child benefits that have thus far been reserved for mothers.

The Yesh Atid party’s bill was vetoed by the Jewish Home party earlier this month, prompting coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) to withdraw it from the Knesset docket. Nevertheless, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, initially moved to submit the proposal for a preliminary reading on the Knesset floor on Wednesday, counting on votes from the opposition for its passage. On Wednesday morning he was dissuaded by Netanyahu, who requested that he postpone the vote a week.

“Lapid is trying to bypass the coalition in order to achieve his political goals,” a coalition source reportedly told Yedioth Ahronoth, charging that the finance minister was violating a coalition arrangement to delay controversial bills so that dissenting parties can come to an agreement.

The leadership of the coalition instructed the other parties to sanction Yesh Atid by voting down the proposal in its current form.

The bill seeks to change the income tax law that gives couples credits for theirs children. Since mothers receive more benefits than do fathers under the law, couples comprising two men were ineligible for certain tax breaks. The new bill sought to give gay couples equal rights in that arena.

Earlier this month, the proposed legislation, sponsored by Yesh Atid’s Adi Kol, passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, a crucial step that grants the bill government support — and thus an almost guaranteed parliamentary majority.

However, Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked wasted no time in sending a letter to Netanyahu asking him to halt the process and arguing that the bill violates the coalition agreement’s stipulations on the religious status quo due to its far-reaching implications for marriage laws.

According to the terms of the coalition agreement that brought the national religious Jewish Home into the government, the party has the right to veto any laws that change Israel’s fragile status quo on religious issues. Marriage services for Jews in Israel are controlled by the state rabbinate, and the country offers no civil marriage option.

After the bill was first presented, Jewish Home’s Uri Orbach, the pensioner affairs minister, charged that it was an attempt to surreptitiously push for recognition of gay marriage. But Lapid countered that it had “nothing do with religion and state” and was rather a human rights issue.

Yesh Atid has proposed a number of bills looking to extend benefits to same-sex couples, including a civil marriage bill in October, and an announcement from the Health Minister, a member of the party, that she would open up the use of surrogacy to homosexual couples and single mothers.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the Jewish Home party, is said to be weighing a retaliation for Yesh Atid’s decision to bypass the coalition in presenting the bill. Bennett may support the private bill of opposition MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), which would require a two-thirds parliamentary majority in order to negotiate with the Palestinians over the fate of Jerusalem, the news site Walla reported.

The spat between Jewish Home and Yesh Atid comes with the relationship between Lapid and Netanyahu at a nadir over the identity of the next chairman of the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. With both men refusing to budge on their nominees — Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi  and Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid — communication between the two has broken down.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) decided Tuesday to go ahead and name himself FADC chairman until the two sides can reach an agreement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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