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Inside story

Hiding in the parking lot and ignoring calls, rebel MKs send Israel to elections

Likud MK comes to Knesset in decoy car, another ignores officials’ messages but responds to pro-cannabis activists. A Blue and White MK naps in his car, before a last-minute entry

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich votes in the Knesset against a bill that might have staved off elections, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)
Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich votes in the Knesset against a bill that might have staved off elections, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)

In the early hours of Tuesday morning the Knesset narrowly rejected a bill that would have deferred a deadline for passing a state budget and brought Israel back from the brink of elections.

And in the cold light of day it became clear that lawmakers from both Likud and Blue and White had tricked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into believing he had the votes for the legislation to pass.

MKs voting after midnight Monday rejected the bill that would have given the rival coalition parties an eleventh-hour chance to reconcile their stark differences, by a vote of 49 to 47.

However, the (Hebrew language) alphabetical roll call only revealed toward the end of the vote that the bill was going to fall, and it appeared the Knesset parking lot played a key role in the night’s drama.

Knesset members shout at each other after a bill that might have staved off elections is defeated, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)

Throughout Monday it had been clear that there was a mini-rebellion from within the ranks of both Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, with some lawmakers openly saying they wouldn’t vote for the legislation and others’ plans revealed to media outlets through anonymous “sources.”

When the time came for the vote, Likud MK Sharren Haskel was absent and ignored countless messages from Likud officials trying to track her down, Channel 12 news reported.

According to the outlet she was, however, very responsive at the same time to messages from activists working for the legalization of marijuana.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in the Knesset, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)

After a day of refusing to confirm they would rebel, Blue and White MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich entered the plenum and voted against the legislation, with Haimovich later saying that she had decided “to vote with my conscience” in defiance of Blue and White party discipline, and that Netanyahu “is not worthy of our trust for so much as another day.”

MK Asaf Zamir makes a surprise appearance in the Knesset on December 22, 2020 to vote against a coalition budget bill. (Knesset spokesman/Danny Shem Tov)

Zamir later explained that he voted against the legislation because “this was a bad government for Israel.”

“I was there, I saw up close and that’s why I resigned [as tourism minister]. That’s why I also voted last night against the artificial extension of its life,” Zamir said.

At this stage, Ram Shefa, the third lawmaker from the party expected to vote against the bill, was nowhere to be found and was assumed to be quarantined at home after coming into contact with a fellow lawmaker later diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Zamir, Haimovich and Shefa had all previously publicly expressed their unease at their party remaining in partnership with Netanyahu.

Likud MK Michal Shir in Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Next up of note in the Hebrew-language alphabetical roll call was Likud MK Michal Shir, who had reportedly told associates that she wasn’t feeling well and would not be coming to the Knesset.

In fact, she arrived at the Knesset in somebody else’s car in a deliberate act of subterfuge to hide her presence.

According to Channel 12 news, Shir then hid in the Knesset parking lot, waiting until her name had been called for a third time before she entered the hall and voted against the legislation.

In response, Likud MK Osnat Mark called Shir an “insolent bitch,” eventually apologizing for the insult but insisting that Shir’s actions were treacherous.

After voting, Shir became the latest defector from Likud, announcing that she had chosen to join Gideon Sa’ar and his new party ahead of likely new elections. Fellow Likud MK Haskel is expected to follow suit.

Blue and White MK Ran Shefa votes in the Knesset against a bill that might have staved off elections, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)

And so back to Shefa, who according to Hebrew-language reports, was also hiding in the Knesset parking lot, away from the prying eyes of Likud officials who thought he was absent and therefore would not vote against the measure. Instead, he was reportedly just taking a nap in his car and waiting for the moment he would enter the hall and vote against the bill.

At the moment of truth, he appeared in the Knesset gallery, just in time to shout his no vote when his name was read out.

In addition, Labor’s ministers Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli were absent, while Labor’s third MK, Meirav Michaeli, voted against the legislation.

The bill fell and Israel was headed for elections.

Barring a highly improbable rapprochement Tuesday between Netanyahu and Gantz and the 2020 state budget passing all three of its Knesset readings during the day, the Knesset will automatically dissolve at midnight on Tuesday, and Israelis will go to the polls again, probably on March 23, 2021.

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