Opposition lawmakers set to join Knesset committees after budget passes

After UTJ seeks end to parties’ refusal to join panels, MKs reportedly agree to ask Likud members to withdraw High Court petition on the matter

Idit Silman, head of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Idit Silman, head of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leaders met on Monday evening to discuss United Torah Judaism’s demand that the opposition end its boycott of Knesset committees, which it had called over the alleged failure of some parties to be given their fair share of representation on the panels.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the participants in the meeting agreed that while they would not agree to join committees immediately, they would ask opposition MKs to withdraw a High Court petition they had submitted on the matter.

Army Radio quoted opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that lawmakers would join the committees if a budget is passed by the mid-November deadline.

“After the budget, [the committees] will be divided up and [faction chair Yariv Levin] will have to sit down with the other party leaders and decide on how it will be divided,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

“They are proposing several junior committees and there is one state audit committee that is significant. I have no doubt that [the coalition] will propose this,” he said.

The government has until November 14 to finalize the budget and have it approved in its second and third readings or the coalition will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections. In practice, the Knesset vote will likely have to take place by November 10, since the parliament’s plenum is usually active only from Monday to Wednesday.

Head of opposition MK Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Kan, at the meeting UTJ’s Moshe Gafni also expressed displeasure at what he said was a failure by the vast majority of Likud members to participate in the parliamentary process.

“There are things we can change, but it’s like having a nail without a hammer. It is impossible to continue like this,” Gafni reportedly said.

Army Radio reported that Netanyahu also asked opposition lawmakers not to travel in the run-up to the budget vote.

“You want to fly abroad? No problem. There are Thursdays through Sundays. Fly on Friday and come back on Sunday. Go to Cyprus,” he said.

The opposition has attempted to block the formation of the Knesset committees at every opportunity, in what is seen to be an effort to stymie debates on the budget in the hope that the government will fail to pass it by the deadline.

United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni after a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 committees. Opposition parties had complained they were not chairing any of the key Knesset committees.

In August, the High Court of Justice discussed a petition filed by some lawmakers from the Likud and Shas parties against the makeup of Knesset committees.

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 didn’t come from the entire Likud party, many of whose members don’t believe the court should have a say in the Knesset’s work.

Likud MKs David Bitan, center, and Fateen Mulla, right, meet Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, left, at a High Court of Justice hearing on August 9, 2021 concerning committee assignments in the Knesset. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Uzi Vogelman said during the discussion that the lawmakers’ request was akin to a “putsch” attempt.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut said the fact that the petition was filed by individual lawmakers rather than parties posed a difficulty.

“Likud has a negative opinion about this petition,” she told the plaintiff’s lawyer Ilan Bombach. “The true litigant opposes this petition.”

Members of the Knesset House Committee vote to establish a swath of new parliamentary committees, July 25, 2021. (Knesset)

In a letter to Levin in July, coalition whip Idit Silman of the Yamina party said the opposition had been offered the chairmanship of four permanent committees and two special committees, as well as five deputy chair positions in the various committees.

Levin in response said that Silman had “a lot of nerve” sending such a letter.

On Monday, Bitan told the Kan public broadcaster that Likud had thought the court would have ruled on the matter by now.

“We expected the High Court to make a decision and it did not happen,” he said.

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