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Bill to limit campaign self-financing advances through ministerial committee

Legislation pushed by Likud MK Amsalem has been nicknamed ‘Barkat Law,’ as it is said to target party’s multimillionaire MK Nir Barkat, a potential Netanyahu rival

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks to the Knesset plenum on December 27, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)
Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks to the Knesset plenum on December 27, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

A bill that would prevent public officials from using their personal wealth to fund political campaigns advanced through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday.

The bill, put forth by Likud MK David Amsalem, has been nicknamed the “Barkat Law,” since it is said to be designed to stymie an attempt by fellow Likud MK Nir Barkat — whose net worth has been estimated at some NIS 500 million ($139 million) — to potentially wrest control of the party away from Benjamin Netanyahu.

The bill would limit the sum of donations that a public official and his family can give to a political campaign to NIS 100,000 per year. The ministerial committee, chaired by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, backed the proposal and recommended a coalition committee be established to examine it further.

The legislation, in explanatory text, says that it is aimed at “equality, integrity and preventing the purchase of power with money” and says its goal is to prevent politicians’ reliance on wealth and to blunt 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 afraid his political opponents are.

Likud MK David Amsalem (right) shouts from the Knesset floor on December 27, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

“The are afraid, afraid,” he said in a video message filmed in the Knesset and shared on social media. “And they know why. A group of wheelers and dealers who 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, said to be the richest member of Knesset, famously declined to take his salary, and accepts only one shekel a year.

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.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu during a plenum session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Bennett also lobbed criticism at Barkat 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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