A key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused uproar in the Knesset on Monday when he proposed the formation of a new Arab affairs committee, prompting accusations from the opposition that it was “political bribery” aimed at leading the Islamist Ra’am party to vote alongside the ruling Likud.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the formation of the committee meant that Ra’am was expected to support Likud in a key vote by the Knesset’s powerful Arrangements Committee, which would give its head, Likud MK Miki Zohar, the numbers to automatically pass proposals favored by the pro-Netanyahu bloc.
Zohar, the Likud whip, made the proposal for the new committee during a meeting of the Arrangements Committee, which controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a government is formed.
Meretz MK Issawi Frej responded to the announcement, saying that the formation of the committee was “political bribery” and charging that the panel would be a “step back 50 years” for Arab society.
The backlash appeared to be over Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas’s decision to cooperate with Likud and sideline the other majority-Arab party, the Joint List, from leading the Knesset’s efforts to address inequalities plaguing Israel’s Arab minority.
When Ra’am MK Waleed Taha defended the establishment of the committee and said that it was in the common interest of all, MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List responded that the committee was “an irrelevance” and said that his party instead called for a committee to fight crime.
“There is no issue more important than the fight against crime in Arab society — it is belittled by the name of this committee,” Tibi said.
Abbas has openly broached the possibility of cooperating with Netanyahu in order to win moves sought for the Arab community aimed at fighting organized crime and improving quality of life.
Monday’s meeting took place after a short delay, following Zohar’s apparent concession on Sunday that Knesset committees would be staffed based on a proposal submitted by the bloc of parties seeking to oust the premier.
The Arrangements Committee, which in the face of ongoing political deadlock has become increasingly influential, has 33 MKs — 16 from the so-called “change bloc” seeking to oust Netanyahu, 14 from the bloc led by Netanyahu, one for Islamist party Ra’am and two for the right-wing Yamina party headed by Naftali Bennett.
Last week, rather than allow for a vote on the change bloc’s proposal for the establishment of parliamentary committees and deputies to the Knesset speaker, Zohar simply adjourned the panel, sparking outcry from left-wing lawmakers.
The change bloc’s proposal was to see the appointment of four deputies to Knesset speaker Yariv Levin on Monday: three from the change bloc and just one from Likud.
The Arrangements Committee will also establish temporary parliamentary committees. Orna Barbivai, a member of the Yesh Atid party, was to chair the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, while Moshe Gafni from the ultra-Orthodox right-wing United Torah Judaism will head the Finance Committee.
Gafni met with Netanyahu on Monday morning as part of the prime minister’s efforts to shore up a coalition.