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Opposition drops boycott of Knesset committees after court ruling

High Court had declined to intervene in dispute; ultra-Orthodox MKs say they’ll still skip deliberations on kashrut reforms

Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri and Likud's Yariv Levin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on October 18, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri and Likud's Yariv Levin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on October 18, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The opposition on Tuesday largely dropped its boycott of Knesset committees, sending lawmakers to staff key panels, after the High Court of Justice refused to intervene in the parliamentary dispute.

On Monday, the court rejected a petition filed three months ago by six opposition lawmakers against the makeup of Knesset committees, which they claimed were unfairly balanced to the coalition’s advantage. The court ruled that the matter did not justify judicial intervention.

The petition by four members of the Likud party and two members of Shas had sought to annul a July 12 decision by the temporary Knesset Arrangements Committee that formed and set the makeup of the permanent parliamentary committees. They argued that the decision gave coalition members disproportionate control.

Since then, the court had pushed for the two sides to resolve the dispute themselves and some changes were indeed made to provide opposition MKs with greater representation. Still, opposition lawmakers continued to boycott many Knesset committees in protest of their composition, though some called to rethink the strategy. With the rejection of the petition, the boycott appears to have ended.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties began distributing the panel roles among MKs, while Likud initially refrained but eventually sent representatives to some of the committees as well.

Following the court ruling, Shas said chairman Aryeh Deri had selected MK Ya’akov Margi to become a member of the Knesset Jewish Religious Services Committee and that MK Yinon Azoulay would sit on the Knesset Finance Committee.

But ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionism lawmakers also announced they would not attend the deliberations over the coalition-led reforms to the kashrut system, citing the government’s “shameful” handling of the legislation.

In July, the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee approved the makeup of the parliament’s 11 permanent committees without the opposition’s agreement. A week later, the Knesset House Committee approved the establishment of four new permanent pnaels. Opposition parties had complained at the time that they were not chairing any of the key Knesset committees and some petitioned the High Court.

The top court on Monday said opposition parties had “disconnected from their duty to represent the interests for which they were elected to the Knesset” by skipping the meetings.

The justices noted that past High Court intervention in Knesset matters was meant to ensure the continuation of the proper democratic process, such as when parties were prevented from calling a vote of no-confidence or a lawmaker was blocked from presenting a bill.

Head of the Shas party MK Aryeh Deri with Likud MK Yariv Levin during a meeting of the right-wing parties, in the Knesset, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The petition was filed by Likud MKs David Bitan, Miri Regev, Keti Shitrit, and Fateen Mulla, along with Shas lawmakers Moshe Arbel and Michael Malchieli. It did not come from the entire Likud party, many of whose members do not believe the court should have a say in the Knesset’s work.

Likud faction chairman MK Yariv Levin, who had opposed filing the petition in the first place, nonetheless slammed the ruling in a statement.

He said the court ruling was “worthless” and that the judges “broke another record of disgrace and cynicism” for taking three months to rule on the petition.

Levin alleged that past petitions by center-left parties had been ruled on quickly, but that “when the rights of the right [wing] are being trampled they have all the time in the world.”

Levin charged that the court had delayed ruling on the committees in order to give coalition parties enough time to move the state budget through various Knesset forums without opposition. The government must beat a November 14 deadline to pass the budget in the Knesset or new elections will be called.

“Now that the voting in the Finance Committee is over, with unparalleled cynicism, they remember to give a verdict,” he said.

Likud MK Miri Regev in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on August 2 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud’s Regev echoed Levin’s accusation of High Court bias, saying “petitions from the left it honors and embraces, but petitions for the right it silences, not to mention shreds.”

Coalition parties responded in a statement saying the court had done well to “not intervene in Knesset work” and invited opposition parties “to take their places in the committees, as many of their members want.”

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