After Begin ousted from Knesset committee, Lapid offers him his party’s slot

Likud MK, booted from Internal Affairs panel for opposing controversial bill, turns down Yesh Atid leader’s offer, which would not have affected coalition’s majority

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK Benny Begin speaks during a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, controversial legislation that seeks to legitimize illegal West Bank outposts, in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Benny Begin speaks during a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, controversial legislation that seeks to legitimize illegal West Bank outposts, in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Thursday offered to give up his party’s seat on the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee to Likud MK Benny Begin, who was booted from the panel a day earlier.

Maverick coalition lawmaker Begin, the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, was ousted after expressing opposition to a bill that would ban police from informing prosecutors whether there are grounds for indictment upon wrapping up their investigations.

“He is invited to take the spot of Yesh Atid in the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee,” Lapid told Army Radio.

Begin told the Ma’ariv daily he was turning down Lapid’s offer.

Even if Begin had accepted the proposal to replace Yesh Atid’s Yael German on the committee and vote against the bill, the coalition would still retain a majority on the panel with eight government lawmakers pitted against five opposition MKs and Begin.

The decision to oust Begin from the committee on Wednesday drew an angry reaction from the opposition, as coalition lawmakers said the Likud MK was being punished for violating his party’s official position.

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, November 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Begin told the committee the bill must only apply to future cases, excluding the ongoing graft investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The bill has been seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Netanyahu from the public fallout should police find sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.

Begin said he believed the proposed legislation stemmed from “good intentions,” namely to avoid tarnishing the reputations of Israelis investigated by police who are ultimately let off by prosecutors without charge. But it cannot be extended to open cases, he added.

The bill would jail investigators who issue recommendations for indictment as well as police officials who leak information from ongoing investigations to the press. An earlier clause, which would have jailed journalists for publishing that information, has been excised. Currently, police do not explicitly recommend indictments but issue a summary outlining whether there is an evidential basis for charges.

House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) later on Wednesday informed the plenum that Begin had been replaced on the panel by fellow Likud MK David Bitan. Begin said his ouster was against his will.

The Internal Affairs Committee is headed by Likud MK David Amsalem, who also sponsored the bill and was expected to fast-track the legislation. The coalition remained divided as of Wednesday as to whether the bill could apply to existing cases, with Kulanu MK Roy Folkman opposing its retroactive application during the committee session.

This was not the first time the governing Likud party reshuffled its committees simply to rid itself of Begin’s opposition. Earlier this year, a special committee was formed to debate the so-called Jewish state bill, which Begin has come out against. Last year, Begin was the sole coalition lawmaker to vote against the Regulation Bill to legalize West Bank outposts. For that legislation as well, the coalition formed a special panel to secure a coalition majority in the committee.

Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has also penalized lawmakers for voting against its party’s stance in the past, most notably suspending the legislative privileges of former MK Adi Kol for several months in 2013 after she abstained in a vote on the centrist party’s centerpiece so-called governability bill.

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