Bill that lets parties replace ministers with more MKs approved for final votes

So-called ‘Norwegian Law’ passes 8-5 in Knesset committee; opposition says it wastes public funds

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

MKs vote one by one in the Knesset plenary to form committees on March 24, 2020. (Adina Veldman/Knesset)
MKs vote one by one in the Knesset plenary to form committees on March 24, 2020. (Adina Veldman/Knesset)

A bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament was approved Tuesday for its final Knesset readings, which are expected to take place next week.

The so-called Norwegian Law was approved in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, eight to five. It will now be sent to the plenary for its second and third readings, after which, if approved, it will become law.

The law would allow 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.

Opposition lawmakers have strongly condemned the bill, saying the unity 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.

The committee chair, United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Asher, said after Tuesday’s vote that “in essence this law is good. The Knesset will be strengthened and be as powerful as it should be.”

A cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The proposal takes its name from Norwegian legislation mandating that all government ministers resign their seats in the parliament. That process is intended to create a separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislature.

The Israeli version, however, comes primarily in response to what many consider to be a shorthanded Knesset, with a significant number of parliamentary seats effectively inactive because their holders are in the cabinet. Under current law, serving cabinet ministers are severely limited in their functions as MKs. They are not allowed to serve as speaker or deputy speaker, to sit on committees or even to propose bills.

A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in last month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers — over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the new offices created earlier this month was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post.

Other new offices include the Water Resources and Higher Education ministries, a Ministry of Community Empowerment, a Cyber Ministry, and a Settlements Ministry.

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