Blue and White petitions High Court against Edelstein’s closure of Knesset
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Blue and White petitions High Court against Edelstein’s closure of Knesset

MK Avi Nissenkorn storms out of coronavirus briefing, says Knesset needs functioning committees to deal with crisis; Rivlin urges both sides not to hold Knesset ‘hostage’

Protesters rail against Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein's decision to prohibit meetings of the Knesset plenum, carrying a sign reading "No to dictatorship" outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Protesters rail against Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein's decision to prohibit meetings of the Knesset plenum, carrying a sign reading "No to dictatorship" outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Blue and White party filed a High Court petition Thursday against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to prevent the Knesset from convening, stepping up protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Likud party for “undemocratic” actions.

Netanyahu and Edelstein “are not only trying to destroy Israeli democracy, but also to cause the election results to be ignored,” said Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah, one of the party’s coalition negotiators, who filed the petition at the High Court of Justice on Thursday afternoon.

He said Edelstein had “hijacked” the Knesset by preventing a plenum vote on a new Knesset speaker earlier this week, knowing there is a majority for replacing him.

“We won’t let that happen,” he added.

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah arrives at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem to file a petition against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on March 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The row began when Knesset speaker Edelstein refused to allow the plenum of the new 23rd Knesset to convene after it was elected on March 2, arguing that the coronavirus outbreak made any gathering of the 120 MKs dangerous to their health.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained in a Channel 12 interview that Likud was preventing the Knesset from convening out of a fear that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz planned to allow an Arab lawmaker from the Joint List faction to head a Knesset committee. (The last functioning Knesset already had an Arab committee chair: MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who chaired the Committee for the Status of Women.)

As the row intensified over the course of the week, Blue and White accused Netanyahu of “shutting down Israeli democracy” by preventing the parliament from meeting and establishing committees to oversee the effort to combat the coronavirus, including invasive new tracking policies imposed as part of the effort.

Finally on Thursday, Edelstein said he would agree to convene the Knesset by the following Monday — the Knesset does not hold votes on the sabbaths of the major monotheistic religions, i.e., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The High Court said Thursday it would convene a hearing on the Knesset freeze on Sunday.

Speaker of the Israeli parliament Yuli Edelstein arrives to a meeting, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Israeli parliament on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday afternoon, Edelstein invited the heads of the eight factions in the Knesset to meet with the two officials spearheading the COVID-19 efforts: Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat.

But Blue and White’s representative at the meeting, MK Avi Nissenkorn, stormed out in the middle.

He told Bar Siman-Tov and Ben Shabbat that while he respected them both and the work they were doing, they should be briefing functioning Knesset committees, not ad hoc gatherings of lawmakers while the Knesset was shut down.

President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in on the fight Thursday, phoning Blue and White leaders and Likud’s Yariv Levin, one of the party’s coalition negotiators.

According to the President’s Residence, Rivlin urged both sides “not to take the Knesset hostage” in the negotiations. He asked the parties to try to convene the parliament immediately irrespective of the state of their talks.

President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein arrive at the swearing in ceremony of the 23rd Knesset (Haim Zach/Mark Neyman/GPO)

“Advance the discourse between you in parallel with ensuring the orderly and continuous functioning of the Knesset,” Rivlin, a former two-term Knesset speaker himself, implored the sides.

“Its opening is important to the citizens of Israel, in this time of crisis more than ever.”

Blue and White’s Shelah, meanwhile, urged his party’s leader, Gantz, to freeze all unity government talks with Likud until the Knesset resumed operations.

“Against the backdrop of this national crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu wants to cancel the election results, paralyze the Knesset and destroy the foundations of the state,” Shelah said in a statement.

“Blue and White must not negotiate with Likud until the Knesset’s activity has been fully restored. It is wrong to discuss anything with Bibi and his representatives until Israel returns to function as a full democracy,” he said, using the prime minister’s nickname.

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