Cabinet okays bill allowing ministers to resign from Knesset

Advanced by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, so-called ‘Norwegian Law’ would bolster number of active parliamentarians

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the annual Bar Association Conference in Eilat, May 18, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the annual Bar Association Conference in Eilat, May 18, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

The cabinet on Sunday lent its support to a bill that would help separate Israel’s parliamentary and executive branches.

The so-called “Norwegian Law,” advanced by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), would allow one minister in every coalition party to give up their Knesset seat in favor of the next person in line on their party’s slate.

It won the approval of the full cabinet Sunday morning, and the go-ahead from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the afternoon. It is expected to proceed successfully through its Knesset readings and become law.

Shaked had said she would propose the bill in order to allow her eight-seat party’s No. 9, former MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, to enter the Knesset.

The bill is also a response to what many consider to be a short-handed Knesset, with many 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. Only the prime minister is legally required to be an MK.

The Israeli Knesset is itself relatively small compared to similarly-sized democracies, with just 120 members. Austria, with roughly Israel’s population at 8.6 million, has a parliament with two houses and 245 members. Switzerland’s similarly bicameral legislature has 246 members serving its 8.2 million citizens. And Sweden, home to 9.8 million Swedes, has 349 lawmakers in its single house.

The law would “empower the coalition factions to strengthen their parliamentary activities in the Knesset, and will bring into the House active and worthy members,” the Jewish Home party said in a Sunday statement.

By definition, this legislative manpower problem is felt most acutely by the ruling coalition. It is the 61-seat coalition that loses 21 active parliamentarians to cabinet posts and seven more to deputy ministerial positions, while the 59-seat opposition suffers no such pressures.

Under the bill’s new rules, only one minister may resign their Knesset post in each coalition faction. If the minister later resigns from the government, they automatically return to the Knesset, but a party can avert the subsequent ejection of the replacement junior MK by having a different minister resign their Knesset seat.

The bill is expected to pass easily the required three “yes” votes in the Knesset plenum, but has not advanced without criticism.

Zionist Union MK Mickey Rosenthal criticized the narrow scope of the bill.

A previous proposed version of the bill “had a substantive goal. It forbade double-service in a comprehensive way for all ministers, deputy minister and the prime minister, in order to allow members of Knesset to focus on their work and not sprint between five committees.”

Shaked’s bill, dubbed in the Knesset the “little Norwegian bill,” has a “personal goal,” Rosenthal charged: enabling Moalem-Refaeli to enter the Knesset. “When United Torah Judaism complained that it won’t be able to benefit from this ‘bonus’ for Mr. Ya’akov Asher” — the party’s next in line — “they allowed a single deputy minister to resign as well.” UTJ does not hold full ministerial posts, but only deputy positions.

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