A Likud internal court on Monday rejected a petition seeking to oust lawmaker Sharren Haskel from the governing party over her opposition to a bill that would shutter stores on Shabbat, hours before the final Knesset votes on the controversial legislation.
The court, however, advised Haskel to reevaluate her position on the so-called minimarkets bill, “in light of the circumstances and in order to maintain the Likud government.”
Struggling to secure parliamentary support for the bill, coalition chairman David Amsalem had filed the petition to Eject Haskel Saturday night with the party’s top internal court, claiming that her opposition risks bringing down the government.
“If she doesn’t vote according to the rulings of the party, she cannot continue as a member of Likud,” he said in a Sunday morning statement, citing the Likud faction’s decision to support the bill. “She is helping Likud’s rivals and this goes against the party’s constitution, goals, and decisions.”
During the hearing, Likud judges rebuked Amsalem for lodging the petition, saying it fell beyond their purview and should never have been submitted.
“They placed Sharren in front of a firing squad,” said Judge Akiva Nof, according to the Haaretz newspaper.
“Amsalem caused damage to the faction,” the daily quoted fellow Judge Chaya Shamir as saying.
Amsalem’s attorney reportedly told Haskel, 33, to “grow up” during the heated hearing on Monday, according to Hadashot news.
The coalition was set to debate the proposed Shabbat legislation by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri overnight, with just a one-MK lead over the opposition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned his Likud lawmakers to support the controversial bill.
“Whoever votes against the minimarkets bill is in favor of toppling the government,” Netanyahu told MKs during a closed-door Likud faction meeting, according to leaks to Hebrew media.
In a last-ditch attempt to secure a majority, coalition leaders reached an agreement Sunday to soften the bill, agreeing to exempt convenience stores attached to gas stations from the legislation but rejecting a proposed amendment that would have exempted the tourist city of Eilat.
Likud ministers had sparred with Netanyahu on Sunday morning over Amsalem’s efforts to oust Haskel.
“We are talking about a disproportionate response,” said Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, according to a coalition source. “This law is already causing damage to the party, and there are many in Likud that think so.”
Backing Gamliel, Regional Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said during the cabinet meeting that there were other ways to persuade Haskel to change her mind, arguing that ousting her from the party was a step too far.
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis also expressed dismay at Haskel’s treatment and proposed softening the bill to widen its support, according to Hebrew media reports.
Last week, Akunis, who is rumored to be considering a bid for mayor of the largely secular Tel Aviv, said he had “major issues” with the bill and was still deciding how he would vote in its final reading. “In its current form, this is a bad law for Likud,” he told Hadashot TV news on Thursday.
Responding to the criticism, Netanyahu told the ministers that the bill, along with the Yisrael Beytenu proposal to impose the death penalty on terrorists and the yearly budget, “needed to be passed.”
The bill, sponsored by Deri, chair of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, would grant his Interior Ministry the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether business may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.
It passed its first reading last month after Deri threatened to quit the government, issuing an ultimatum hours before the vote conditioning his continued tenure as minister on its passage. But it has since languished on the coalition chairman’s desk, with several Likud and Kulanu MKs, including Haskel, announcing their opposition and delaying a final vote on the measure.
Haskel said the bill lacked support among the Likud party’s base.
“The minimarket bill is the proposal of a party that barely passes the electoral threshold, yet is trying to force a certain way of life on the entire public,” she said in a dig at the seven-seat Shas party. “This is a law that would discriminate against certain cities and deepen the secular-Haredi rift. The Likud is a diverse party made up of traditional, religious and secular Jews — people who go to synagogue on Shabbat morning and then to a cafe in the afternoon — most of whom oppose the bill.”
Shas has so far struggled to secure the votes it needs to pass the bill. Last month, Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman MK Robert Ilatov said that any attempt to bring the bill to a vote would be opposed by Yisrael Beytenu’s five lawmakers in the Knesset, despite their membership in the coalition. And with its majority standing at just 66 MKs of 120, the coalition cannot afford to lose any more votes. On Monday, the mother of Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev died, further reducing the coalition numbers.
Last week, Deri even tried to bring Likud MK Yehudah Glick to vote on the bill just hours after the death of Glick’s wife. In another ploy, he attempted to have Shas’s Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay, who was hospitalized at the time, resign from the Knesset so that his replacement would be able to vote.
With both attempts falling short, the scheduled vote was postponed to Monday of this week.