Bill for new hospital in Arab town advances after Ra’am MK breaks with coalition

Proposal to classify incitement against ultra-Orthodox as a crime also passes preliminary reading, in pair of wins for opposition

MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks during a committee meeting, in the Knesset, October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks during a committee meeting, in the Knesset, October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A pair of bills brought by the opposition were approved Wednesday by the Knesset, dealing a defeat to the coalition.

The first bill, which was approved in a preliminary vote after a Ra’am Knesset member broke with the coalition and voted in favor, aims to establish a hospital in the northern Arab town of Sakhnin.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim was booed by fellow coalition MKs in the Knesset plenum hall for voting with the opposition in favor of the bill.

The bill passed 51-50 in its first reading, in a blow to the coalition. It requires another three readings to become law.

Ghanaim lives in Sakhnin and was previously its mayor.

The second opposition-backed bill to pass a preliminary reading was United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher’s proposal to classify incitement against the ultra-Orthodox as a criminal offense. The bill was approved, also in its initial reading, with a vote of 33-32.

The legislation on the Shakhnin hospital was proposed by the Joint List, and received the support of many opposition MKs who are believed to have voted in favor of the bill simply to embarrass the coalition,

Voting in favor of the bill included the extreme-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who has repeatedly branded Joint List and Ra’am MKs as “terror supporters.”

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich addresses a Knesset plenum session on the state budget on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Far-right Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich said Ghanaim voted in favor of the bill because “it was important to him.”

“But none of the spineless on the right thought of doing a similar move and voting in favor of the ‘young settlement’ act, because it did not matter to them,” Smotrich charged, referring to legislation to legalize West Bank outposts.

Channel 12 news quoted MKs in the Yamina party as saying that “it can’t be that we abide by coalition discipline, and they will do whatever they want,” referring to Ghanaim’s vote.

The network also said that the Likud party would vote in favor of the law in upcoming readings.

There are currently no public hospitals in Arab cities in Israel, and the proposed Sakhnin facility would become the first.

The city of Sakhnin, Jan. 26, 2015 (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

In a statement released after the preliminary vote was approved, Ra’am said the Joint List bill was only aimed at embarrassing Ghanaim.

The Islamist coalition party said a hospital in Sakhnin may not be the correct move, as it had not yet been determined if there is adequate land for such a facility, and what impact it would have on the city.

Ra’am also said it plans to examine a plan to establish three medical facilities in Arab areas in Israel: One in the Galilee, the second in the so-called Triangle (a concentration of Arab towns adjacent to the West Bank border), and the third in the Negev desert.

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