Earlier this week, as the coalition appeared fresh on the verge of a crisis over a new public broadcasting authority, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon sounded the alarm.
“This government needs a vacation. It must urgently be put on vacation, before it is hospitalized,” Kahlon told Army Radio.
Starting Thursday, lawmakers will have some three months to recuperate from the lively, often raucous, ten-week summer session that opened with the surprise inclusion of the Yisrael Beytenu party in the coalition and wound down with the passage of a series of contested bills into law.
On July 12, the NGO transparency bill passed, which will force non-governmental organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign countries to disclose this information on public documents. The MK expulsion bill, which gives a supermajority of lawmakers the option of ousting colleagues who voice support for armed struggle against the State of Israel, was voted into law on July 20.
Six days later, a provision to allow religious authorities to prevent non-Orthodox Jews from performing conversions in the state-funded ritual baths became law. The rollback of a minimum requirement of math, science and English courses in ultra-Orthodox schools, which would see a reduction in state funding for those institutions that don’t meet the criteria, was given final parliamentary approval on Monday.
As the parliament goes on break, below is a look at some of the proposals (beyond those mentioned above) that made it into law, and the issues that will likely arise in the fall and may expose fault lines in the coalition.
The session that was
Anti-terrorism legislation: Perhaps the most significant achievement for the government in the past three months was the sweeping overhaul of anti-terror legislation, which lays out punishments for terror offenses and gives Israeli law enforcement more leeway to crack down than ever before.
The laws, which have been drafted over some five years, also garnered the support of the Zionist Union, and were approved into law on June 15.
On Wednesday, the Knesset also authorized a three-year provision that would allow courts to order convicted terrorists as young as 12 to be held in closed facilities and sent to jail once they reach the age of 14. A day earlier, the Knesset okayed a one-time NIS 200,000 ($52,300) grant for Israelis who lost both parents in a terror attack prior to October 2000 (Israelis who lost both parents after that period are already compensated under existing laws).
On July 18, the government increased penalties for individuals who destroy an Israeli flag or national symbol to three years in jail (up from a year) and a NIS 58,400 ($15,200) fine.
Amid the ongoing controversy over IDF soldier Elor Azaria, indicted for manslaughter over the March killing of a disarmed Palestinian terrorist, the Knesset approved a law banning the publication of the names of Israeli soldiers under investigation who have not been indicted. In July, the parliament also expanded the legal definition of “incitement” to include encouraging volunteer Israeli soldiers, namely Christians, to desert the military.
The fight over the Israeli media: The summer term ended in an uproar over a delay in launching the new public broadcaster, which was perceived as an attempt by the government to control the new corporation — or see to it that the nascent organization never opens. Transcripts leaked from a cabinet session saw Culture Minister Miri Regev wonder aloud “What’s the point of this corporation if we don’t control it?”
Overnight Wednesday-Thursday, the delay in opening the broadcaster to April 2017, while giving the authority to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahlon to push up the launch to January 2017, cleared the Knesset.
On Wednesday night, the controversial Knesset Channel bill became law, thus allowing other companies to bid as operators of the public TV station, which is currently run by Channel 2. Media reports have speculated the law is an effort by Netanyahu to allow billionaire Shaul Elovitch — a friend of the prime minister and owner of Walla news and Bezeq — to step in and take over in May 2017.
The prime minister, who holds the Communications Ministry portfolio, has staunchly defended both measures as a way to break up the media monopoly in Israel and bring more diverse voices into the fold. In the past, Netanyahu has accused the Israeli media of being monolithic and left-wing.
Baby steps for better parenting benefits: In late June, the Knesset approved a five-day paternity leave for Israeli fathers, though the first three days will be deducted from vacation days and the last two will be considered sick leave with only partial compensation, while on July 18, the parliament voted to allow both parents to split their “parenting hour” (an hour in which they are allowed to leave work for four months after paid maternity leave ends), granting couples to decide among them who will use the hour.
Last month, Kahlon also voiced support for extending paid maternity leave from its current 14 weeks and said he has appointed a task force to study the issue.
Affirmative action for people with disabilities: As of a Wednesday vote on a bill by Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli, public companies that employ more than 100 people must ensure that five percent of their workforce are persons with disabilities, including some with “significant disabilities.”
“For the 800,000 people with disabilities in Israel, this is a historic moment,” declared Shmuli in the plenum.
Closing construction sites after work accidents: Nearly every week at least one death in a work accident at a construction site is reported in Israel. Now, the Knesset has passed a law that would close sites where the deaths or serious injury occurred for five days, unless the contractors prove they complied with all safety regulations.
Site managers that fail to close the sites could face two years in prison or a NIS 75,000 fine.
Putting an end to spam: Also this week, the Knesset passed a bill by Zionist Union MK Mickey Rosenthal that would bar companies from harassing Israelis with promotional content or appeals for donations. Companies and organizations are now allowed to send just one text message and one initial voice message to recruit clients or donors. Under the new law, Israelis who receive more than one call or message are eligible for NIS 1,000 in compensation, and will not have to prove damages in court (the maximum compensation is capped at 10,000 for multiple complaints). Emails are still fair game, however, so long as an unsubscribe button is available. The law does not apply to political campaigning.
The two-year budget: The Knesset this week voted to allow a two-year budget for 2017-2018. Netanyahu has long sought a two-year plan, arguing it allows for greater economic stability. Kahlon has voiced reservations about the plan, but ultimately gave in, and Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni this week said he personally believes the plan is unnecessary, but said he would go along with it, in accordance with the coalition agreements.
When the Knesset reconvenes in the fall, the budget will be front-and-center, with political jockeying and wheeling-dealing over the allocation of resources. The treasury must submit it in January and the Knesset must approve it in three readings — or go to elections.
What to expect in the next Knesset session
Evacuating Amona: If there’s one issue that could dissolve this government, it may be the matter of the Amona outpost, which under a Supreme Court order must be demolished by December 2016. The government has reportedly designated land near the area to relocate the 41 families living in Amona — which the court ruled is built on private Palestinian land — since 1997. But, the residents told Israeli media they have no intention of moving. Will the government move to forcibly evacuate the residents, mirroring scenes of violent clashes a decade ago? And if so, will the right-wing coalition survive it?
The V15 law: A bill by Likud MK Yoav Kisch that would ban any group that conducts polls, registers voters or advertises on the Internet or in the media from accepting more than NIS 20,000 ($5,000) per month in foreign donations during the run-up to elections has been met with internal coalition opposition. But Netanyahu last month voiced support for reviving the so-called V15 proposal, days after a US senate inquiry found the US government supported a group that tried to unseat Netanyahu with nearly $350,000, or NIS 1.3 million. (The report cleared the State Department of wrongdoing in funding OneVoice, the parent organization of V15, which advocated for Netanyahu’s removal from office). According to a report in the Israel Hayom daily on Monday, a special committee will be set up to debate the bill.
The silent Avigdor Liberman: Since entering the Defense Ministry, Liberman has been keeping a low profile and has told the media he will not be giving interviews until after the Jewish holidays in the fall, until he learns the ropes. But when he returns to the spotlight, many attentive eyes will be looking to see whether the outspoken politician, who joked he received surgery to lengthen his famously short fuse, has changed his tune and ascertain what his security policies are beyond the bluster.
Will the remaining Falashmura ever make it to Israel? Held hostage by two lawmakers playing hooky from the plenum earlier this year, when the coalition had a mere 61 lawmakers, Netanyahu pledged to resume the immigration of the 9,000 Falashmura left behind in Ethiopia, many of whom have relatives in Israel. But the plan, which was slated to move forward in June, has apparently made no headway. And in his visit to Ethiopia last month, Netanyahu did not so much as meet with members of the Jewish community there. The Jewish Agency said it was awaiting a government decision on the matter because the Falashmura are not eligible to immigrate under Israel’s law of return.
“What is under discussion vis-à-vis the individuals and families who wish to immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia cannot be defined as aliyah in a legal sense, since they have not been found eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return. It is thus beyond our mandate to pursue such an operation without a formal decision by the government of Israel,” said spokesperson Avi Mayer.
“We are awaiting the government’s decision on the matter. Once such a decision is reached, we will implement it to the best of our ability, drawing on decades of experience bringing tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews home to Israel.”
Taking on social media sites for online incitement: A bill that would penalize social media companies for online incitement to terrorism was approved in its preliminary reading on July 20. The proposal by Zionist Union MK Revital Swid would level fines of NIS 300,000 ($78,000) per post on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that do not remove posts calling for terror attacks within 48 hours of their publication.
Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has called Facebook a “monster” that has the “blood of Israelis on its hands” and vowed to submit a bill, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, to force it to remove content. The matter appears to have broad support from the coalition and opposition and will likely be back on the agenda when the Knesset resumes.
More coalition talks?: With the parliament on break, Netanyahu may also try again to woo Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog into the coalition. The prime minister suggested as much earlier last week, dangling the coveted Foreign Ministry portfolio as his bargaining chip. Netanyahu acknowledged, though, that at the moment “there are no contacts” with opposition parties, “but there is willingness. I am certainly interested in widening the coalition.”
Herzog on Monday publicly rebuffed his advances, but the opposition leader earlier this year also spent months denying contacts with Netanyahu to join the coalition — up until those very talks fell apart. With his party primaries set for July 2017 and the embarrassing experience of the failed coalition talks behind him, Herzog may indeed be disinclined to open up that Pandora’s Box. But Netanyahu appears sure to try.