Opposition bills advance, as Gantz boycotts plenum over stalled IDF pension law

Coalition pulls its legislation amid efforts to reach compromise with Blue and White; opposition pulls bill calling for investigation of defense minister’s past business

Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The opposition managed to advance over a dozen of its bills in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, as Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party followed through in their dispute with the rest of the coalition.

On Monday, Blue and White announced a boycott of Knesset votes over the coalition’s refusal to advance legislation to enshrine increases to the pensions of career military officers.

The party said that it would not cooperate on government-backed bills due to “the apparent damage to state security and the breach of coalition obligations for a period of months.”

The legislation to boost the pensions for IDF officers is seen as relatively unpopular, as it will benefit some officers who are already well paid as the cost of living in Israel continues to rise. But Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is determined to provide financial relief to a key constituency of his party.

The Blue and White statement did not explicitly mention military pensions, but Gantz railed against the government on the issue during a speech Monday morning. He claimed that critics of the pension hike were spreading “blood libels” against military officers.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a meeting on Wednesday with Gantz in an effort to reach a compromise.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left), Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center), and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on January 31, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Asked on the way to Bennett’s office if there would be a solution to the crisis, Gantz said he hoped so: “We are trying to find a way for there to be a good [solution].”

However, the meeting did not bear fruit, leading Blue and White to issue a statement announcing it will continue its boycott.

“Blue and White and I will not compromise on passing laws and decisions that deal directly with Israeli security, the power of the IDF and the future and character of Israeli society,” Gantz said in the statement.

Unable to solve the dispute, the coalition pulled all of its legislation and told its members they need not show up for votes.

The boycott also appeared to threaten Gantz directly as the opposition placed a bill on the docket calling for an official state commission of inquiry into the failed Fifth Dimension security firm that he used to run, which has faced accusations of mismanagement.

However, later in the day, Likud unexpectedly announced it was withdrawing the proposal.

The defeats for the coalition are largely symbolic, as the opposition bills being advanced only passed their preliminary votes and are highly unlikely to be green-lit through the subsequent readings in order to be signed into law.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But the developments continue a trend seen in recent weeks in which the narrow, 61-MK coalition has been forced to pull its legislation due to an inability to garner a majority in the Knesset.

The dispute with Blue and White is the latest in a string of crises to plague the diverse coalition.

On Tuesday, Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar, who had been serving as a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, became the government’s first minister to resign his post and return to the Knesset.

In previous weeks, the party causing the mayhem was Ra’am, due to its frustration with the government advancing the controversial Citizenship Law barring Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs from obtaining citizenship, as well as the shelving of legislation to assist Israel’s Bedouin population.

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