Knesset approves coalition accord, Mofaz sworn in as deputy PM

Labor’s Ben-Eliezer tells Kadima leader, ‘You sold your soul to the devil,’ then asks to retract reference to the devil

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz is sworn in as a member of the cabinet on Wednesday. (screen capture: The Knesset Channel)
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz is sworn in as a member of the cabinet on Wednesday. (screen capture: The Knesset Channel)

The Knesset voted 71-23 on Wednesday afternoon to add Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz to the government as a minister without portfolio and deputy prime minister.

The vote also represented approval of the agreement that swells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to 94 of the 120 Knesset members with the addition of Mofaz’s 28-strong Kadima party.

Mofaz, who will take on Netanyahu’s duties when the premier is abroad, was immediately sworn into office.

Earlier Wednesday, the Knesset announced that Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich was the new opposition leader.

Mofaz “sold his soul to the devil,” Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Wednesday during the turbulent debate on the unity government that preceded the vote. Later, he asked that the use of “the devil” be removed from the Knesset protocol.

The long session was interrupted to settle a legal question, after MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) asked the government to disclose any “secret agreements” reached by the new coalition partners. Any agreement that would influence the government must be disclosed to the legislators prior to such a vote.

Netanyahu answered carefully that the deal being voted upon was “the only one signed,” causing an uproar during which the government consulted with the Knesset’s legal adviser.

After a 10-minute discussion, Netanyahu said again there were no signed agreements beside the one brought before the Knesset. Opposition lawmaker Uri Ariel promptly asked whether there were any verbal agreements, and following the legal adviser’s confirmation that verbal agreements had legal significance, the session was stopped again. Netanyahu returned to say that there had been discussions but no further agreements, and that any agreement that required Knesset approval would be brought to the Knesset.

Speaker Reuven Rivlin then proceeded with the vote.

The request to add Mofaz to the government was submitted by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who said the country’s best interests should always be at the core of political decision making. “This is a historic opportunity to change realities,” he said.

Following Ben-Eliezer’s remarks, in which he also said Mofaz joined a government that smelled of garbage, MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) pointedly asked Ben-Eliezer how he had spent two years sitting at the same table as the “devil” he mentioned.

Toward the end of the session, Ben-Eliezer asked to apologize for a poor choice of words, and asked that the word “devil” be stricken from the protocols. Rivlin agreed, saying the intended message could be conveyed without the use of that specific term.

Kadima legislators mentioned time and again the need to build an alternative to the Tal Law, creating a new reality in which all members of the Israeli society perform military or national service.

Kadima MK Robert Tiviaev, who had said he would vote against the coalition, stepped out of the chamber when the vote was called. So did fellow Kadima MK Shlomo Molla.

Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) said the ideas of strength and stability — stressed by Mofaz and Netanyahu when they presented their alliance at a press conference on Tuesday — were those that helped the Nazi regime rise to power in Germany, while Taleb el-Sana (Ra’am-Ta’al) said the surprise political alliance might be connected to to the unexplained stench in central Israel over recent weeks.

Herzog thanked Mofaz for joining the coalition. He said this was an opportunity for the Israeli public to see that there is only one alternative to the Likud, only one party with a true social-democratic agenda. “We [Labor] will present an ideological alternative,” he said.

MK Miri Regev (Likud) criticized Herzog, pointing out that Yachimovich had also spoken about her willingness to join the government.

Under its new coalition agreement, Kadima will receive the chairmanships of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Knesset Economics Committee and a third committee to be announced at a later date. Former Shin Bet chief MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) is expected to chair the foreign affairs committee.

The surprise agreement to form a unity government was announced by Netanyahu and Mofaz shortly after the government’s bill to dissolve the Knesset had passed its first reading Monday night, by 109 votes to 1, with Kadima supporting it. The Knesset was then proceeding toward the second and third readings of the bill, en route to early elections on September 4.


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