Bill to let parties replace ministers with more MKs passes first Knesset reading

Bill to let parties replace ministers with more MKs passes first Knesset reading

So-called ‘Norwegian Law’ approved by 64 votes to 38; opposition slams legislation as the result of inflated cabinet filled with unnecessary ministries

Ministers meet in the Knesset on May 28, 2020. (Koby Gideon/GPO)
Ministers meet in the Knesset on May 28, 2020. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

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 passed its first Knesset reading overnight Monday.

The so-called Norwegian Law was approved by 64 votes to 38. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minster Benny Gantz, the leaders of the two largest parties in the coalition — Likud and Blue and White, respectively — were not present during the vote.

Opposition lawmakers strongly condemned the bill, saying the unity government 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 bill will now be passed back to the Constitution Law and Justice Committee to prepare it for second and third readings, after which it will become law.

MK Yair Lapid speaks during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to quit, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“To anyone who doesn’t understand what the Norwegian Law is — this detached government tonight passed a law enabling the (superfluous) deputy of a (superfluous) minister of a (superfluous) Ministry of Regional Development to resign from the Knesset and continue to receive a salary and all the benefits while he continues to do nothing,” opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem alliance tweeted Tuesday.

Lapid was apparently riffing on the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry and the Regional Cooperation Ministry, both of which have been criticized as being superfluous.

Opposition MK Ayelet Shaked of the Yamina party also lampooned the government for the large number of ministries it has, which will enable many ministers to use the Norwegian law.

“I read today that there will be a government ministry called ‘the Ministry For Small Ministries,” she said. “It seemed a bit strange to me so I asked a minister if there really will be a Ministry For Small Ministries, and he told me to ask the Minister For Strange Names. That is what is going on in the formation of this government.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

MK Oded Forer of the opposition Yisrael Beytenu party accused the government of making “a pile of unnecessary ministries with unnecessary costs and then after you have chosen to create roles for dozens of ministers and deputy ministers, you then say that someone else will do your jobs in the Knesset.”

Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz said, “This Knesset is busy only with itself. Just with more ministries, jobs, ministers and deputy ministers so that there is nothing left for the Knesset.

“Blue and White needs the Norwegian [Law] like air to breath simply because otherwise they have no one left to work here,” she said.

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.

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.

Meretz party MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, January 28, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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 Sunday during a cabinet meeting 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 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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