Likud seeks to oust MK for opposing Shabbat bill
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Likud seeks to oust MK for opposing Shabbat bill

Coalition chairman asks party judiciary to cancel Sharren Haskel's membership over her intention to oppose legislation to shutter mini-markets on Jewish day of rest

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel at a faction meeting in the Knesset, May 30, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Sharren Haskel at a faction meeting in the Knesset, May 30, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Struggling to secure parliamentary support for a bill that would shutter stores on Shabbat, coalition chairman David Amsalem has asked his Likud party to eject MK Sharren Haskel, claiming that her stated intention to vote against the controversial measure risks bringing down the government.

Amsalem, together with the Likud’s chief legal adviser, Avi Levi, filed a petition Saturday night with the party’s top internal court seeking to end Haskel’s membership over her opposition to the so-called mini-markets bill and her direct rejection of the leadership’s decision to support it.

“We ask the court to summon her as soon as possible, before the vote on the bill, and to rule to end her membership in the party,” Levi wrote in the petition.

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.

Likud MK David Amsalem, chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee leads the Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Painting the bill as crucial to the survival of the Likud-led coalition, Amsalem said that Haskel’s opposition could “damage the stability of the coalition and the continuation of the government.”

“If she doesn’t vote according to the rulings of the party, she cannot continue as a member of Likud,” he said Sunday morning, 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.”

Responding to the petition, Haskel railed at the bill and what she described as a brazen attempt to silence open discourse within the party.

“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.”

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.

Opposition chief whip Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) slammed the attempt to oust Haskel, comparing it to the behavior of a despotic dictatorship.

Yoel Hasson seen in the Knesset on August 16, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

“It seems that this morning we have woken up in Iran,” Hasson said in a statement, “the stage of threats is over and we have moved to the stage of political purges.

“More than 20 years ago, an unknown MK called Benjamin Netanyahu voted against Likud on the law for direct elections for the prime minister. Netanyahu was not kicked out by [prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir, who knew how to include different opinions within the party, but with Emperor Netanyahu, everyone needs to be obedient,” Hasson said.

He vowed to continue efforts to stymie the bill, saying that it appears likely to be taken off the Knesset plenary agenda for a second week in a row.

The bill came on the heels of a crisis between the government and its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners that saw Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party resign as health minister in November over his opposition to train maintenance conducted on Shabbat.

An ‘AM PM’ convenience store, which open on Shabbat, in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2016. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Netanyahu quickly reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties under which the government would propose laws maintaining the status quo with regard to Shabbat observance in Israel.

But 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.

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