Coalition advances primaries bill, shelves mini-markets legislation

Opposition slams proposal to provide candidates with state funds for primary elections, calling to ‘remove big money from politics’

An MK speaking to almost nobody during a Knesset filibuster, on December 27, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Panton/Knesset spokesperson)
An MK speaking to almost nobody during a Knesset filibuster, on December 27, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Panton/Knesset spokesperson)

The Knesset advanced controversial legislation Monday evening that would provide lawmakers government funding in primary elections. However, the coalition was forced to shelve a different bill that would shutter minimarkets on the Sabbath due to lack of votes.

The so-called primaries bill was advanced through a second and third reading with 62 votes in favor and 52 votes against. Proposed by Likud MK and coalition chairman David Amsalem, the legislation would provide government funding to candidates in primary elections, who until now have been forced to bankroll campaigns on their own.

Under the current law, parties are given government funding in general elections only.

According to Amsalem’s legislation, the amount each candidate receives would be dependent on the number of eligible voters in the party. For larger parties which have 100,000 voters or more, the faction would grant NIS 320,000 ($92,200). Parties with voters in the tens of thousands would be allotted NIS 120,000 ($34,575) per candidate for their primary elections.

Coalition chairman David Amsalem seen during a marathon plenary session in the Knesset regarding the police recommendations bill. December 27, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

However, the funding is contingent on three conditions: that the faction has at least 5,000 members; that the majority of its representatives are democratically elected; and that the vote is held no more than six months prior to the general election.

Supporters of the bill argue that it prevents private donors from gaining too big an influence in the candidates that they bankroll; but opponents say that it forces the public to fund campaigns against their will.

Speaking out against the legislation from the Knesset plenum on Monday evening, Joint (Arab) List lawmaker Dov Khenin said that Amsalem was correct in arguing “that the current system of fundraising in primaries is corrupt. It is impossible to continue with this conduct. But this solution is simply wrong. We have to remove big money from politics, rather than injecting it through the public coffers.”

Defending his legislation, Amsalem argued that the issue at hand was one of “morality.”

“If you vote against this law, it means that you do not believe in it, and therefore you are not supposed to take money (from donors). I expect you not to take this money… Donations are the worst thing that can be,” he argued.

Separately, the coalition chairman removed the so-called “minimarkets bill,” after concluding that there was no majority to pass the legislation.

Despite the initial refusal of ultra-Orthodox parties to delay the vote, Amsalem had no choice but to do so after it became clear that the numbers were not in their favor, shelving the legislation for another week.

Two young girls eat ice cream as they leave a mini market in Jerusalem, August 2, 2010. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, the opposition joined coalition party Yisrael Beytenu in refusing to have one lawmaker bow out of voting on the bill to shutter minimarkets on Shabbat, saying they would not offset the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died hours earlier.

The decision not to allow the parliamentary offset, often extended as a courtesy, was decried by ministers and senior members of the coalition, who accused the opposition of “losing their humanity.”

Hitting back, the opposition said the coalition could easily delay the vote to a later date.

The process of giving the coalition a pass by allowing it to retain the same majority margin — in Hebrew kizuz — is a commonplace gesture, but not a requirement, in the Knesset, frequently arranged between the coalition and opposition for lawmakers who are ill or have pressing social engagements, family commitments, and so on.

Even before Glick’s absence, the coalition struggled to muster a majority for the proposal, with the Likud MK among several coalition MKs — including the Yisrael Beytenu party, Likud MK Sharren Haskel, and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria, Tali Ploskov, and Merav Ben Ari — who expressed reservations or outright opposition to the bill.

The bill came on the heels of a crisis between the government and its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners that saw Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party resign as health minister last month over his opposition to train maintenance conducted on Shabbat.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick speaks during the funeral of his wife, Yaffa Glick, at the Har Hamenuhot Cemetery in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties under which the government would propose laws maintaining the status quo with regard to Shabbat observance in Israel.

The bill would grant the Interior Ministry the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether business may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening through Saturday night.

Though the bill would make an exception for mostly secular Tel Aviv, it could lead to stores in other places being forced to shut down for the Jewish day of rest. The measure came after the High Court upheld Tel Aviv’s right to allow markets to stay open on Shabbat.

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