'Soldiers don’t have a recess. Hostages don’t have a recess'

Furor as lawmakers approve Knesset recess despite war, Haredi enlistment controversy

After House Committee votes for six-week break, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Liberman blasts ‘disconnected elected officials who do not deserve to lead the people of Israel’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Members of the Knesset House Committee vote to approve the legislature's 2024 spring recess, March, 26, 2024. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset)
Members of the Knesset House Committee vote to approve the legislature's 2024 spring recess, March, 26, 2024. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset)

Following a stormy debate, the Knesset House Committee voted 8-3 on Tuesday to approve the legislature’s annual spring recess, despite widespread calls to cancel the break in light of the war and the ongoing controversy surrounding the government’s proposed ultra-Orthodox enlistment legislation.

Hawkish opposition politician Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party has been lobbying for the past week to allow the lawmakers to continue their normal legislative and oversight activities during the recess, which runs from April 7 to May 19.

Addressing reporters in the Knesset last Monday, Liberman asserted that it was “neither reasonable nor logical” for lawmakers to take a vacation while 134 Israelis are held hostage in Gaza, Hezbollah rockets fall on the north, and the issue of ultra-Orthodox military enlistment remains unresolved.

He was soon joined by representatives of Labor, Yesh Atid and National Unity, who wrote to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana arguing that it was “incumbent on us, the public’s representatives, not to stop taking care of the citizens of Israel’s problems at normal times and all the more so in a time of war.”

Despite the vocal opposition, the measure passed overwhelmingly in the House Committee, where families of the hostages chanting “shame” attempted to push chairman Ofir Katz (Likud) into canceling the break.

“Soldiers don’t have a recess. Hostages don’t have a recess,” declared Hen Avigdori, whose wife and son were released from Hamas captivity last November. “You represent us and the most important thing for you right now is your recess.”

Avigdori pledged to keep an eye on the activities of every lawmaker who votes yes, prompting United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus to reply “yalla, yalla” [“give me a break”].

National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata voiced similar concerns to those of Avigdori, asking her colleagues how it was possible that they could “be home for [even] one day while the hostages are not home” and protesting the fact that the Knesset plenary will not be able to pass war-related legislation during the recess.

During the recess, Knesset committees will be allowed to meet four times while the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will have no limitations placed on its activities.

Chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality MK Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a session on domestic abuse and sexual violence inside evacuee hotels, February 6, 2024. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

The House Committee accepted a proposal put forward by Tamano-Shata to allow committees to hold two additional meetings on issues relating to oversight of the war.

In the wake of the vote, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Liberman criticized what he called “disconnected elected officials who do not deserve to lead the people of Israel.”

Last week, following lawmakers’ initial calls to cancel the recess, Channel 12 quoted a senior coalition official as saying that those behind the effort “don’t want discussions in the Knesset, but rather the possibility of overthrowing the government.”

“We will go on recess and if they want, we will hold discussions about the war at any time,” the official stated at the time.

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