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Blue and White source insists party committed to coalition

Blue and White MK to boycott votes due to planned reforms, in new blow to coalition

Days after government brought another rebel MK back into fold, Michael Biton accuses transportation and agriculture ministries of ‘hurting the weak’

Blue and White MK Michael Biton chairs a meeting of the Knesset Economic Committee on May 25, 2022. (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz)
Blue and White MK Michael Biton chairs a meeting of the Knesset Economic Committee on May 25, 2022. (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz)

A lawmaker from Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said Wednesday he would no longer vote for coalition bills in protest of proposed reforms in public transportation and agriculture, dealing the struggling government a fresh blow shortly after another lawmaker’s rebellion.

Blue and White MK Michael Biton declared the move at a meeting of the Knesset Economic Committee, which he chairs. The lawmaker said he will not convene the panel or its subcommittees until the matter is resolved.

“I won’t vote with the coalition except on no-confidence votes, so it won’t become political,” he said.

Biton charged that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer were “hurting the weak,” citing a proposal from the former to raise ticket prices. He also called for all the Agriculture Ministry’s reforms to be halted until an agreement is reached with farmers.

“Until then I won’t vote in the plenum. Maybe later I’ll even vote against,” he said. “What hurts me is the harm to the poor. We relinquished our honor.”

He accused the ministries of having “stolen” money from the public.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli in Tel Aviv, on February 22, 2022. (Avshalom sassoni/Flash90)

Forer, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, swiftly hit back at Biton, who he said was siding with chicken coop owners in wanting to raise prices for consumers while continuing to produce eggs “in catastrophic sanitary conditions.”

“I will continue working for over 9 million Israeli citizens and not for a small lobby group. I expect my fellow coalition members to act likewise,” Forer wrote on Facebook.

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer arrives at the new government’s first weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAN / AFP)

A senior Blue and White source indicated Biton’s demands were backed by the party, and denounced Michaeli for not attending the committee meeting. “We call on Michaeli to bring back proper conduct to the coalition and Knesset,” the unnamed source was quoted as saying by Hebrew media.

The source insisted Blue and White remains committed to the coalition, and “there is no concern for its stability.” Biton was later seen entering Gantz’s office.

Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, lauded Biton.

“Politics aside, congratulations to Michael Biton for showing Merav Michaeli her place,” tweeted Likud MK Miki Zohar, who railed at the Labor minister’s “arrogance.”

Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich called Biton “the only righteous man in Sodom.”

“Stop abusing the weak levels [of society],” Smotrich wrote on Twitter.

Biton’s announcement marks a fresh headache for the coalition and came just days after Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi reversed her brief decision to stop backing the government. The coalition and the opposition have been at parity in the Knesset with 60 seats each since Idit Silman, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, jumped ship from the coalition last month.

The government is an unwieldy amalgam of right-wing, centrist and leftist parties, and includes the Islamist Ra’am, and has struggled to find a balance between the different groups since coming into power last year, especially in recent months.

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