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Opposition to swell by 1 MK as 5 Blue and White ministers resign from Knesset

Party leader Gantz meets with 4 incoming lawmakers, all women, set to join his faction; one additional replacement will side with opposition

Blue and White Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz, second right, meets with incoming lawmakers set to enter the Knesset under the so-called Norwegian Law, June 17, 2020. (Noam Moskowitz)
Blue and White Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz, second right, meets with incoming lawmakers set to enter the Knesset under the so-called Norwegian Law, June 17, 2020. (Noam Moskowitz)

Five Blue and White ministers are set to resign from their parliamentary duties under the new so-called Norwegian Law, making way for the entry of five fresh lawmakers to the Knesset, the coalition party said in a statement Thursday.

The arrangement, made possible by the newly passed law, was agreed with party leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The five ministers, who will stick to their cabinet posts but relinquish their lawmaker roles, are Culture Minister Chili Tropper, Science Minister Izhar Shay, Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster, Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir, and Michael Biton, who is a minister in the Defense Ministry.

Four of the five ministers — Tropper, Zamir, Schuster and Biton — officially handed in their resignations to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin on Wednesday. Shay is expected to do so on Thursday.

Gantz met with four of the confirmed incoming lawmakers, all women: Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Einav Kabala, Hila Shay, and Tehila Friedman, who will join the Blue and White faction.

The fifth lawmaker is Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, who will join Yesh Atid-Telem, Blue and White’s former partner, in the opposition. Cotler-Wunsh and Friedman MK had previously been aligned with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem and Yesh Atid respectively, but will not be joining them in opposition.

Under Knesset law, new MKs who are members of a multiparty, or alliance, slate that splits before the government is sworn in can choose which of the parties to represent in parliament.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem, who had led criticism of the Norwegian Law, took aim at Biton, whose ministerial duties in the Defense Ministry include veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation of the wounded.

Addressing Biton, Lapid tweeted, “To be a ‘minister without portfolio in the Defense Ministry’ is to declare that you have no work, but to resign from the Knesset in order to make time so that you can continue to do nothing — that is just completely shameless.”

The Norwegian Law was approved on Monday in its second and third readings with 66 votes in favor and 43 against. It required a majority of 61 votes to pass.

It has faced criticism for increasing government expenditure by maintaining ministers as well as the lawmakers taking their places in the Knesset.

The law allows any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead. Under the bill’s new rules, if that minister later resigns from the cabinet, they would automatically return to the Knesset.

At least 12 ministers or deputies are expected to eventually use the Norwegian Law, introducing a similar number of new MKs to the Knesset at an estimated cost of around NIS 20 million ($5.7 million) a year.

The law is important to Blue and White because, of its 15 MKs, only three are not currently serving ministers or deputy ministers and are able to spend time in Knesset committees and on daily affairs.

Opposition lawmakers have strongly condemned the legislation, saying the government only needs it because it has allowed the creation of so many cabinet positions under the coalition deal that it doesn’t have enough manpower left to sit in parliament as lawmakers.

Use of the law has already run into trouble, with one incoming MK for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party withdrawing his candidacy after videos emerged of him making disparaging statements about women and others.

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