A New Round of Elections Looming in Israel

A controversial Knesset bill and ongoing dispute over the state budget could lead to another round of indecisive elections

A New Round of Elections Looming in Israel
Miriam Alster/Flash90

One would think that mass protests numbering in the thousands three times a week ending with dozens of arrests each time, a gripping financial crisis leaving almost a fourth of Israelis unemployed, and an increasing rise of cases of the Coronavirus would be enough for one country to handle.

In Israel, this is never the case.

Due to a controversial bill proposed in the Knesset this week, it appears that Jerusalem is inching its way closer to yet another round of elections.

On Wednesday (July 22), the stability of the governing coalition was rattled due to proposed legislation that seeks to ban homosexual conversion therapy. The bill was initiated by MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Merav Michaeli, and legally bans any type of conversion therapy being performed by psychologists.

According to the bill, professionals performing conversion therapies are subject to heavy financial penalties as well as the possibility of losing their license to practice. Despite the noise the bill produced, it still has only been successful in its first reading, passing by a vote of 42 in favor and 36 opposed. The bill still has a long way to go before being officially passed into law.

VIDEO: Uproar in the Knesset

Immediately following the vote, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MKs were seen from the upper level of the Knesset’s plenum screaming down toward “Blue and White” party members who, although part of the coalition, voted in favor of the bill. Dudi Amsalem (Likud) accused the Blue and White party of violating the coalition agreement by pursuing legislation without coordinating with the other coalition parties ahead of time. Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) asserted that Prime Minister Netanyahu was notified beforehand.

Interestingly, much of the Likud MKs were absent from the Knesset during the voting. Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana, who is also a member of Likud and a homosexual himself, voted in favor of the bill.

In response to some parts of the government coalition voting in favor of the bill, ultra-Orthodox MKs threatened to pursue legislation that they know “Blue and White” opposes.

Following the storm that erupted in the Knesset, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) told Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) that he intends to bring several bills to a vote, including the “override clause” and a law forbidding the entry of chametz (leaven) into hospitals during Passover. These are laws that are difficult for Blue and White to support because of the decisive opposition traditionally expressed by their center-left political base.

This is a gross example of the political weaponization of legislation. Instead of pursuing meaningful laws that are designed to benefit the very public the politicians were voted into office to represent, they become little more than blunt instruments with which to bludgeon political rivals. This is just one symptom of the cynical behavior in the political establishment that is currently driving thousands of young Israelis to Jerusalem’s streets in protest. (See: “Israel in Crisis”)

However, this is not the only challenge to undermine this coalition recently. The biggest discrepancy between Netanyahu and his potential successor for the second increment of the prime ministerial rotation, Benny Gantz, is how the state budget will be passed.

Netanyahu is pushing for a short-term two-month budget, whereas Gantz is insisting on a long-term two-year budget asserting that it will provide government stability. The two have yet to reach an agreement, but it is possible that Gantz will compromise in order to eliminate any rationale for Netanyahu to prefer going to elections, which according to the latest polls, he is likely to win.

Dissolving the Knesset and dragging Israel to elections amidst a stifling financial and health crisis would be disastrous for the Jewish state. Although the unity coalition was intended to lead the nation through the Corona crisis, it has proved wholly dysfunctional and only served to worsen the situation at a time when Israelis are most in need of effective leadership.

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