Highlighting growing discord within the ruling party over a bill that would shutter stores on Shabbat, Likud ministers sparred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday morning over efforts to oust one of the party’s lawmakers over her intention to vote against the measure.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel slammed a petition filed by Likud leadership to eject MK Sharren Haskel for opposing the bill.
“We are talking about a disproportionate response,” she said, according to a coalition source. “This law is already causing damage to the party and there are many in Likud that think so.”
Struggling to secure parliamentary support for the bill, coalition chairman David Amsalem had filed a petition Saturday night with the party’s top internal court seeking to eject Haskel, 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.”
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, Prime Minister Benjamin 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 Aryeh 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.
While kicking Haskel out of Likud would not free up her Knesset seat for another, potentially more pliable, MK, Amsalem is hoping that the threat will pressure Haskel to walk back her opposition. Ousted by the party, she would be unable to run in the Likud primaries before the next election.
Haskel hit back at the attempt, saying that the bill lacked support among the party’s base.
“The mini-market 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.
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.