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Knesset speaker flubs vote, killing coalition bill for rabbinical court reform

Mickey Levy not allowed to change ballot after hitting wrong button, leading to 51-51 tie that torpedoes measure, in latest embarrassing defeat for wide-tent government

Speaker Mickey Levy in the Knesset on July 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Speaker Mickey Levy in the Knesset on July 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A bill that would have reformed the system for appointing rabbinical court judges failed to pass in its third and final parliamentary vote Thursday morning because the Knesset speaker accidentally voted against it.

The “no” vote by Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy gave the Knesset a 51-51 tie. Parliamentary procedure holds that a tie is tantamount to a defeat, killing the bill until it can be reintroduced again at a future Knesset session. Coalition sources said they would try again to get it approved next week.

Levy attempted to get special permission to change his vote after realizing his mistake, but the Knesset’s legal adviser ruled that he could not cast another ballot and the vote stands.

“Due to the fact that I cannot change the vote, my vote, there is no majority for the third reading of the bill and the bill does not pass,” Levy announced after the decision.

There could be further judicial review of the matter, he noted.

According to Knesset rules, it is up to the speaker’s discretion to allow a member a repeat vote if they claim their vote was cast in error or had gone unrecorded.

Ahead of the vote, Levy appeared somewhat confused, calling lawmakers to cast their votes for the second reading instead of the third. When the 51-51 tie was displayed on a large screen, the plenum erupted into bedlam as Levy admitted that he had made a mistake and asked the lawmakers to be patient.

The vote took place just before 10 a.m. following an all-night debate in the Knesset plenum that began at 1 a.m.

The bill would have expanded the panel that chooses rabbinical judges to include more representatives from the government and more female representatives.

A plenary session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 14, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The defeat marks the latest in a series of setbacks for the government. The coalition, a hodgepodge of eight parties from across the political spectrum, has only a wafer-thin edge of a single seat over the opposition, meaning just one or two Knesset members are needed to torpedo coalition legislative matters. Though only a few weeks old, the government has thus far had to deal with several instances of legislative goals being stymied by a single mutinous faction or lawmaker.

On Wednesday, New Hope’s Sharren Haskel reluctantly pulled a proposal to decriminalize marijuana before its first reading after it became clear that the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party would not back it, depriving the measure of a majority.

Last week, the extension of the government-backed Palestinian family reunification law failed to muster a majority, after rebel coalition MK Amichai Chikli of Yamina voted with the opposition against it. That vote also ended in a 59-59 tie, with two Ra’am lawmakers abstaining.

Opposition parties on Thursday celebrated the defeat of the rabbinical court reform bill.

“This is an unprecedented achievement,” minority whip Yariv Levin said, according to Haaretz. “Just one month has passed since this fraud government was created and time after time we are managing to defeat government bills.”

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