All-night vote on minimarkets bill delayed after opposition dents measure
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All-night vote on minimarkets bill delayed after opposition dents measure

New loophole in Shabbat legislation is approved when 2 coalition MKs apparently vote for it by mistake, and so the bill goes back to committee

MK Moshe Gafni during a Knesset vote on January 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Moshe Gafni during a Knesset vote on January 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A vote on a controversial law forcing corner stores to close down on Shabbat was delayed early Tuesday after an amendment proposed by the opposition that would create a loophole was okayed by the Knesset, apparently as a result of two MKs incorrectly casting ballots.

The amendment, proposed by Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), was one of hundreds proposed by the opposition, each to be voted on individually, as a means of trying to sink the bill, which was up for final approval during an all-night Knesset session with the coalition hoping to hang on to a razor-thin majority.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel
Sellem)

Several coalition lawmakers had said they would vote against the measure, though the bill was still expected to pass 58 to 57 barring any last second changes, if all Knesset members stayed in the plenum and voted correctly.

The amendment, which would exempt stores that sell kitchen goods from having to get a special permit from the interior minister to stay open on Shabbat, passed after Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) apparently failed to correctly cast their votes in the Knesset’s electronic voting system.

After several minutes of confusion, neither was able to say for certain whether they had actually pressed the correct button, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein declared that the amendment had passed and would be included in the law.

Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Ben Dahan attends a conference on the topic of strengthening the relationship between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, held at the Knesset on November 7, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

At about 4 a.m., coalition chairman David Amsalem requested that the clause containing the amendment be sent back to committee, which would ostensibly give the Knesset another chance to vote it down.

It was not immediately clear how long the committee would meet for and if the vote would still go ahead in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday.

Tweeting from the committee meeting, Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir wrote that the opposition had several hundred more proposed amendments which would need to be voted on.

The stoppage was the latest drama for the bill, which was delayed last week after the death of Likud MK Yehudah Glick’s wife left the coalition without a sure-fire majority.

Shas head Aryeh Deri, who has championed the bill, had unsuccessfully sought to bring Glick to the Knesset hours after the funeral for his wife. He also tried to have one of his own ministers resign from the Knesset — Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay was hospitalized for most of last week and therefore unable to vote — so that another Shas member could take his place.

Both Glick and Azoulay were present in the Knesset on Tuesday.

The Knesset began voting on the amendments at 2:30 a.m., after a 10-hour filibuster by the opposition.

Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The law grants the interior minister, currently Deri, the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether business may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.

It passed its first reading last month after Deri threatened to quit the government, issuing an ultimatum hours before the vote conditioning his continued tenure as minister on its passage. But it has since languished on the coalition chairman’s desk as Deri sought to secure the majority needed to pass the measure.

In a last-ditch attempt to secure a majority, coalition leaders reached an agreement Sunday to soften the bill, agreeing to exempt convenience stores attached to gas stations from the legislation but rejecting a proposed amendment that would have exempted the tourist city of Eilat.

The law will not affect the secular bastion of Tel Aviv, which Israel’s High Court recently ruled could pass its own bylaws to govern what stores may remain open on Shabbat.

Leader of the ‘Shas’ party MK Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 01, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Critics of the bill see it as an attempt to force religious observance on the public. The coalition agreed to back the proposal as part of an effort to shore up ultra-Orthodox support in the wake of a dispute over train maintenance on Shabbat that saw Health Minister Yaakov Litzman resign in protest late last year.

Several lawmakers in the coalition have criticized the measure and while some said they would reluctantly vote for it, Likud MK Sharren Haskel and the entire Yisrael Beytenu faction declared they would not back the measure, as well as independent lawmaker Orly Levy-Abuksis.

Ahead of the vote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned members of his Likud party to toe the party line or risk felling his government.

“Whoever votes against the mini-markets bill is in favor of toppling the government,” Netanyahu told MKs during a closed-door Likud faction meeting, according to leaks to Hebrew media.

The comments came as coalition whip David Amsalem failed in his bid to oust Haskel over her rebellion.

While kicking Haskel out of Likud would not free up her Knesset seat for another, potentially more pliable, MK, Amsalem was hoping that the threat would pressure Haskel to walk back her opposition. Had she been ousted by the party, she would have been unable to run in the Likud primaries before the next election.

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