The Likud party sanctioned one of its senior lawmakers on Tuesday evening, a day after he broke ranks, missing two key votes tied to the coalition’s sweeping plan to shift power from the judiciary to politicians.
Likud MKs told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that there was frustration with MK Yuli Edelstein within the parliamentary faction, for skipping votes on first readings of coalition bills to bestow preemptive immunity from court review upon certain laws and to make it harder to force a premier to recuse himself from his position — despite an order issued among coalition ranks for every lawmaker to appear.
Edelstein, a former minister and Knesset speaker who recently tried to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Likud’s leadership, entered the plenum shortly after judicial reform votes were tallied early on Tuesday morning, to present a separate bill that he personally sponsored, giving party MKs the impression that the snub was deliberate. His spokesman denied the connection on Tuesday, saying among other things, that Edelstein was at a funeral for one of the votes.
Preemptive immunity, which can also override a High Court of Justice decision striking down bills, is one of the core tenets of the coalition’s bid to redraw power lines between the judiciary and politicians. The second bill is largely seen as a shield for Netanyahu, raised after the High Court considered a petition to compel the premier to temporarily step down due to ostensible conflicts of interest overseeing judicial overhaul while himself on trial for corruption.
The coalition successfully met its goal of passing both bills with 61 votes each in a preemptive move to protect against future legal challenges, but without Edelstein, it was left with little margin for error.
According to a message from Likud, its faction director and coalition whip, MK Ofir Katz, sanctioned Edelstein by blocking him from submitting private member’s bills, adding items to the Knesset agenda, or “speaking in the name of the Likud party” for three of the Knesset’s working weeks.
The sanctions were announced as some 500 anti-overhaul protesters rallied outside Edelstein’s home in Herzliya, turning up the heat on him to unequivocally come out against the legislative plan.
“Yesterday we saw Edelstein in a display of ‘half-courage,’” protesters said. “That’s more than nothing, but less than what’s needed. Therefore, until Edelstein takes an unequivocal stand, we’re here.”
Demonstrators also rallied in Bnei Brak outside the home of United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, a top coalition leader. Eggs were hurled at some of the protesters and police said a suspect was arrested for macing an officer, who was treated at the scene.
ביצים הושלכו לעבר מפגינים מול ביתו של גפני בבני ברק, תושב נעצר לאחר שריסס גז פלפל לעבר שוטר pic.twitter.com/BDW2fN1Tk4
— ynet עדכוני (@ynetalerts) March 14, 2023
The Knesset is slated to go on break on April 2, presumably pushing Edelstein’s sanction until the end of the month, until the Knesset returns from its Passover recess.
Hours before he didn’t show up for the Knesset votes, Edelstein criticized the coalition over its relentless push to radically overhaul the judiciary, amid discord in the ruling party over its handling of the process and its fallout.
During the Likud faction meeting led by Netanyahu on Monday, Edelstein slammed the coalition for responding to the growing protests against the overhaul by announcing that the legislative push “won’t be frozen even for a minute,” according to recordings from the closed meeting released by Hebrew media.
Edelstein said the dismissive response was “helping the other side” and “gives the best excuse to the other side” to not enter negotiations. The opposition has demanded the government pause its legislative push during negotiations, which the coalition has refused to do, putting the two sides at a stalemate as the legislation moves forward.
Edelstein also said it was “easy” to dismiss opponents of the overhaul by saying “they are all on the left.”
He asked fellow Likud members whether “the direction we’re going in will guarantee that this will be the reform for years to come,” apparently suggesting the maximalist bills passed without negotiations could be overturned in the future. A veteran Likud MK who has been largely sidelined by Netanyahu after he challenged the prime minister’s leadership of the party, Edelstein also asked that the Likud faction hold its own debate on the legislation before it is brought for its final readings.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.