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Government loses vote as Likud MK emerges after hiding in Knesset parking lot

Plenum has a stormy night, with arguments over offset agreements and lawmakers dragged in from across the country in the wee hours; coalition withdraws remainder of scheduled bills

Lawmakers argue at the Knesset, December 29, 2021 (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz)
Lawmakers argue at the Knesset, December 29, 2021 (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz)

The government lost a vote that it thought it would win in the early hours of Thursday when an opposition lawmaker hid in the Knesset parking lot, misleading the coalition into believing it had the ballots it needed, only to lose at the last minute.

Likud MK Gadi Yevarkan hid in the backseat of fellow Likud MK Yoav Kisch’s car in the Knesset parking lot. Just before the bill went to a vote, he entered the plenum and voted no.

The legislation was an extension of an amendment that would allow terrestrial broadcasters to charge online television platforms a fee for broadcasting their content.

Yevarkan’s sudden appearance in the plenum meant that the vote ended in a tie, 48-48, and as a result did not pass. In response, the coalition withdrew the remainder of its bills scheduled to be voted on that night.

Last year, rebel lawmakers from then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government used a similar trick to bring down legislation that would have prevented Israel from going to the polls in the elections that ultimately led to the fall of Netanyahu’s government. The lawmakers involved in that ruse were from both Likud, Yevarkan’s current party, and Blue and White, his previous one.

As soon as Yevarkan appeared in the plenum, an argument erupted when the coalition decided to cancel an agreement for Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Kushnir of the coalition not to vote in order to offset the absence of Likud MK Etty Atia of the opposition, whose father had died.

Knesset member Gadi Yevarkan speak at the Knesset on July 15, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Offsets are traditionally offered as a courtesy for lawmakers who have no choice but to miss votes, usually due to bereavement, medical issues or official travel.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweeted that coalition whip Idit Silman had “lied again” with the cancelation of the offset.

But Netanyahu has in recent months refused to allow opposition lawmakers to enter into offset agreements, in a move that recently caused controversy when the coalition found itself forced to call Yamina MK Shirly Pinto to the Knesset for a vote six days after she gave birth, which was made necessary by the decision of a lawmaker from her own party to boycott plenum proceedings.

According to the Walla news site, even before Yevarkan showed up to vote, it was clear to the coalition that it probably didn’t have enough votes to pass its legislation, and began calling in lawmakers from their homes in the middle of the night — some from as far away as Tel Aviv.

Kisch tweeted in response to the evening’s events that “they [the government] ate the stinking fish and were expelled from the city,” using a Talmudic allegory to describe an individual trying to evade punishment but then getting punished even further for their actions.

Lawmakers argue at the Knesset, December 29, 2021 (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz)

It was a long night in the Knesset. Earlier, lawmakers approved in a preliminary reading a bill aimed at limiting the ability of wealthy candidates to self-finance their political campaigns.

The bill has become known as the “Barkat Law,” as it is widely viewed as aimed at MK Nir Barkat, who is believed to be the wealthiest Knesset member and is seen as a potential successor to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as leader of the Likud party.

The legislation would bar officials running for public office — and their family members — from contributing more than NIS 100,000 ($32,000) per year to their own campaigns.

Meanwhile, a planned Wednesday vote on a government plan to significantly reform conversion to Judaism in Israel was delayed until further notice after not enough support could be garnered for the legislation. The reform, initiated by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, would allow for conversions outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, authorizing municipal rabbis to supervise the process.

The legislation, penned by Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, is the subject of major controversy. On Tuesday, Chief Rabbi David Lau told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he would not approve any future conversions to Judaism as long as the government continues to advance its plan to ease the process and dilute the Chief Rabbinate’s control over it.

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