Shabbat bill threatened as death of MK’s mother shakes coalition majority
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Shabbat bill threatened as death of MK’s mother shakes coalition majority

For second week, bereaved Knesset member complicates math needed for government to secure final approval of controversial measure to shutter stores on Jewish day of rest

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

MK Motti Yogev at a meeting of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Motti Yogev at a meeting of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

For the second week in a row, the coalition appeared Monday to be struggling to secure a majority to pass a bill that would give the Interior Minister the power to shutter stores on Shabbat, with a lawmaker missing due to a death in the family.

The final Knesset approval of the so-called mini-markets bill was postponed from last week when a Likud MK was unable to take part in the vote after his wife passed away. But now, after being scheduled for Monday afternoon, the coalition’s majority was again thrown into doubt by the death of MK Motti Yogev’s mother.

Normally, that majority stands at 66 of 120 MKs. But with five Yisrael Beytenu MKs vowing to oppose or abstain from the bill along with least one Likud lawmaker, the absence of Yogev from the Jewish Home party, who will be laying his mother to rest as the Knesset session begins, could imperil the vote.

Coalition chairman David Amsalem acknowledged that Yogev’s absence created an additional challenge, but nevertheless, “for now,” the vote would go ahead, he told The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Amsalem that the vote must not be delayed further, Hadashot news reported.

In a last-ditch attempt to secure a majority, coalition leaders reached an agreement Sunday to soften the bill, agreeing to exempt convenience stores attached to gas stations from the legislation but rejecting a proposed amendment that would have exempted the tourist city of Eilat.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri at a press conference announcing a new reform for small businesses at the Prime ministers Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 as Deri sought to secure the majority needed to pass the measure.

MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) eulogizes his wife Yaffa, at her funeral at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery on January 1, 2018 (screen capture: Facebook)

Last week, the Shas leader unsuccessfully sought to bring MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) to the Knesset hours after the death of his wife. He also tried to have one of his own ministers resign from the Knesset — Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay was hospitalized for most of last week and therefore unable to vote — so that another Shas member could take his place.

Highlighting growing discord within the ruling party over the bill, Likud ministers sparred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Sunday morning over efforts to oust one of the party’s lawmakers over her intention to vote against the measure.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel, center, and Nahman Shai, next to her, at the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly in Saint Petersburg, October 18, 2017. (Knesset spokesperson)

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, Regional Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis all criticized efforts to eject MK Sharren Haskel for opposing the bill.

Struggling to secure parliamentary support for the bill, Amsalem had filed a petition Saturday night with the party’s top internal court seeking to eject Haskel, claiming that her opposition risks bringing down the government.

Responding to the criticism,  Netanyahu told the ministers that the bill, along with the Yisrael Beytenu proposal to impose the death penalty on terrorists and the yearly budget, “needed to be passed.”

While kicking Haskel out of Likud would not free up her Knesset seat for another, potentially more pliable, MK, Amsalem was hoping that the threat would pressure Haskel to walk back her opposition. If she were ousted by the party, she would be unable to run in the Likud primaries before the next election.

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