‘Barkat Law’ limiting campaign self-finance passes preliminary Knesset reading

Bill is seen as targeting Nir Barkat, the Knesset’s richest member and a potential successor to Netanyahu as Likud leader

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks during the funeral of Yehuda Dimentman, in Homesh, in the West Bank, on December 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks during the funeral of Yehuda Dimentman, in Homesh, in the West Bank, on December 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday approved in a preliminary reading a bill aimed at limiting the ability of wealthy candidates to self-finance their political campaigns.

The bill has become known as the “Barkat Law,” as it is widely viewed as targeting Likud MK Nir Barkat, who is believed to be the wealthiest Knesset member and is seen as a potential successor to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as leader of the opposition party.

The legislation would bar officials running for public office — and their family members — from contributing more than NIS 100,000 ($32,000) per year to their own campaigns.

The Knesset voted down a version of the bill put forward by Likud MK David Amsalem and then approved one issued by New Hope MK Sharren Haskel, 64-17.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the coalition should not support the legislation by Amsalem, but rather the version from Haskel, since the firebrand Likud MK “leads a violent and abusive discourse in the Knesset plenum and shames the status of the Knesset.”

The bill advanced through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday. The committee, chaired by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, backed the proposal and recommended a coalition committee be established to examine it further.

An explanatory text says that the legislation is aimed at “equality, integrity and preventing the purchase of power with money,” as well as preventing politicians’ reliance on wealth and blunting the impact of money on elected officials.

“Sometimes the campaign of a rich candidate does not enable quality candidates who are not independently wealthy to be elected and to represent the sector they come from,” the legislation reads. “Therefore, limits should be placed on the use of private funds of officials and candidates for Knesset in order to ensure that not only those with personal wealth will be represented in Israeli democracy.”

Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, has long sought to position himself as a successor to Netanyahu, to the dismay of the former prime minister’s loyalists. The Likud MK said Monday that the legislation just shows how scared his political opponents are.

“They are afraid, afraid,” Barkat said in a video message filmed in the Knesset and shared on social media. “And they know why, a group of wheelers and dealers joined together to try and stop me.”

Barkat said he was not alarmed by the move, because, “despite what they say, I work for you — for one shekel a year.”

The wealthy MK famously declined to take his salary and accepts only one shekel a year. Barkat’s net worth has been estimated to be around NIS 500 million ($139 million).

In a speech from the Knesset quarantine section on Monday night, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — forced to show up by the opposition — slammed Likud for what he indicated were misplaced priorities.

“The opposition unfortunately doesn’t care about the fact that we’re in the midst of a pandemic with a variant said to be the quickest and most contagious in the history of mankind,” said Bennett.

“They’re busy with elevated matters like the ‘new Likudniks,’ the ‘Barkat Law’ and with verbally attacking Benny Begin,” the son of former prime minister and Likud co-founder Menachem Begin.

Incidentally, Bennett also went after Barkat, criticizing him for his constant trips to Washington, ostensibly to lobby against reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem that serves Palestinians.

“When it comes to the consulate, I generally don’t have any particular opinion on internal Likud disputes,” said Bennett. “As they say — best of luck to both sides. But MK Nir Barkat, who is trying, if I understand correctly, to challenge Netanyahu, was advised to make a lot of noise about the issue of the consulate in Jerusalem.”

“Go to Washington, come back from Washington, gather forces, it’s a big issue,” Bennett mocked. “You’re making a lot of noise, but what you did left Israel in a worse position.”

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