‘Ra’am is toying with us’: 3 opposition bills advance amid Islamist party’s boycott

Dispute between Arab party and rest of coalition said to stem from approval of so-called Citizenship Law as well as gov’t tabling of bill granting tax benefits to Bedouin villages

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

Three bills backed by the opposition advanced in the Knesset on Wednesday, as the Ra’am faction boycotted votes due to a dispute with the rest of the coalition.

The bills that passed preliminary votes were all sponsored by lawmakers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and included legislation mandating public sector companies to transfer senior citizens calling their automated hotlines to a human customer service representative; a bill that would prevent debt collectors from charging interest on accumulated debts; and a bill granting tax benefits to those working from home.

The Islamist Ra’am party is reportedly angry at coalition ministers for holding up legislation his Islamist party backs in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, a top panel tasked with fast-tracking bills through the Knesset.

Ra’am has been pushing a bill that will extend certain tax exemptions to unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev, which the committee tabled earlier this week. The party is also still furious over the Knesset’s approval last week of the so-called Citizenship Law, controversial legislation renewing a ban on residency permits for Palestinians who marry Israelis.

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas has also canceled his participation in a visit to the Negev with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and MK Sharren Haskel, according to Hebrew media reports.

While coalition chair Idit Silman had been aware of Ra’am’s frustrations and that it would not support government-backed legislation, she was under the impression that the Arab party would still vote with the coalition to block the advancement of bills introduced by the opposition, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

MK Idit Silman speaks with MK Mansour Abbas at the Knesset on October 11, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But that turned out not to be the case, and three of the opposition’s bills managed to advance.

“Ra’am is toying with us. We are living from vote to vote,” a coalition source told Kan.

Due to a lack of support from Ra’am’s four MKs, the coalition decided that all legislation pending a vote in the plenum will be postponed until next week.

Meanwhile, Abbas is said to be conducting negotiations with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in order to settle the dispute.

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