Likud’s Bitan says won’t vote to end ban on racist MKs, pans concessions to allies

MK criticizes his own party for ‘only thinking of forming a government,’ says too many senior cabinet portfolios either gutted or given to intended partners

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Likud MK David Bitan seen during a vote in a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan seen during a vote in a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan said on Saturday he opposed ending a ban on openly racist lawmakers serving in the Knesset and would not vote to support it, while criticizing incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making too many concessions to far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies in coalition talks.

The far-right Otzma Yehudit said Thursday that Netanyahu had agreed to its demand to pass legislation that would remove the clause in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Knesset stipulating that those inciting to racism are disqualified from running for parliament.

“We fought for years against antisemitism and racism around the world, so what kind of message are we sending if we agree to give up [the ban],” Bitan said on Channel 12’s “Meet the Press.”

“Of course, I will oppose it. Everyone needs to oppose it. They aren’t thinking about the future, only about forming a government,” Bitan said.

He did not go so far as saying he would vote against such a bill, explaining he would be absent in such a vote.

Additionally, the lawmaker complained that his party had given away too many senior cabinet roles to its intended coalition partners in negotiations, and said that important roles still in the hands of Likud had been gutted.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by MKs after a vote for the new Knesset speaker on December 13, 2022. At bottom right is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud agreed as part of coalition talks to break up the authorities of various key ministries to allow other coalition parties greater power, including expanding the roles of the Interior Ministry for Shas and the Public Security Ministry for Otzma Yehudit; handing off aspects of the education portfolio to Shas and anti-LGBT Noam; and removing the Defense Ministry’s authority over West Bank civil affairs and construction, handing the matter over to Religious Zionism.

Bitan, who is under indictment on multiple corruption charges and cannot serve as a minister, said he would accept chairing the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.

“I don’t think there is anything else to take,” he said.

The MK also addressed fears that the incoming government will advance an anti-liberal policy agenda: “I don’t believe everything will happen.”

“We’ve seen this story numerous times. Parts of it have come to life and parts haven’t. There are also developments around the world and in Israel that affect the final result. There will also be international pressure,” he said.

Some of the clauses and plans in the emerging deals between Likud and its partners include setting the death penalty for terrorists, advancing annexation of the West Bank, allowing potential anti-LGBT discrimination and enabling gender-segregated public events.

Also Saturday, some one thousand people protested against the incoming government and its expected policies in the northern coastal city of Haifa.

The Movement for Quality Government and other protest groups called on Israelis to demonstrate against “dangerous legislation advanced by the designated criminal government.”

Former defense minister and ex-Likud MK Moshe Ya’alon, who was at the rally, labeled the incoming government a “well-oiled poison machine, with criminal elements, and harmful to democracy. The fight here is not about right or left, but about honesty or corruption.”

Netanyahu announced Wednesday night that he and his Likud had succeeded in forming a coalition with Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionism, Noam, and his long-time ultra-Orthodox partners Shas and UTJ — parties which won a total of 64-seats in the 120-seat Knesset in the November election.

However, full coalition deals have yet to be signed by the parties, with several outstanding issues remaining.

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