Thursday morning, the Knesset concluded its summer session, which was one of its most dramatic in recent years, full of political fights, controversial legislation, and irregular conduct by the plenum’s members, bringing some of them before their Ethics Committee.
The recess will continue until after the holidays in October, but the state’s budget will be handled during the recess.
The coalition chose to promote much legislation this session that it had promised during the elections and that caused hullabaloos both inside and outside the Knesset.
The law to oust MKs, initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was one such bill, and it elicited a remarkable amount of anger in the plenum. The law permits a majority of 90 MKs in the 120-member legislature to oust a fellow parliamentarian for incitement against the State of Israel or supporting armed struggle against it. The law requires that at least ten supporters of the ouster be members of the opposition.
Another central piece of legislation that attracted a great deal of attention of attention was Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s (Bayit Yehudi) “Transparency Bill” that requires NGOs to give details of overseas donations if more than half their funding comes from foreign governments or bodies such as the European Union. In practice, the law will affect liberal groups almost exclusively because hawkish groups in Israel largely rely on donations from wealthy individuals, which are exempt.
Other controversial laws that the Knesset passed this session came from implementing the coalition agreements between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties and revoking laws from previous Knessets that were spearheaded by Yesh Atid. Among the main reforms that were rolled back were the new requirements on enlistment of ultra-Orthodox members of the public and the cancellation of core subject requirements for ultra-Orthodox educational institutions. The aid budgeted for yeshiva students was reduced in the preceding session and returned over the summer. Yesh Atid has claimed that these moves are a disservice to the ultra-Orthodox sector and will hold them back in broader society, but their criticism was insufficient to prevent the ultra-Orthodox factions from successfully demanding their cancellation.
One matter that attracted attention up until the end of this session was the media. The law regarding the Knesset Channel passed with certain concessions made by the coalition to the opposition and based on the recommendations of a public committee. The law’s purpose is to redefine the nature of the channel and to prevent broadcasts that would disgrace the legislature. The bill caused a large perturbation in committee, when allegations were made that it was intended to silence critics and to create a “yes-man” channel.
Another media-related and controversial bill was the one that set up a new broadcasting corporation. During its debate, the opposition accused the coalition of seeking to neutralize and scare the media. Netanyahu stated in a speech that he intended to open the media market to competition and to allow other commercial stations entrance. The opposition responded to the prime minister’s speech by yelling loudly throughout and accusing him of seeking to control the media.
It was not just legislation that led to conflict in the plenum this session. Matters that reached the Ethics Committee also had their place this summer. One such conflict took place after the reconciliation deal with Turkey was signed. MK Hanin Zoabi’s (Joint Arab List) speech on the floor nearly led to an outbreak of violence, and the ushers’ intervention was necessary to calm the room down. The Ethics Committee was content just to censure those involved in the outbreak, Zoabi and Oren Hazan (Likud). However, veteran MKs said that they are at a loss to recall a time in recent years when such a scene took place in the country’s legislature.
The recess will provide the MKs a few months of calm, but afterwards—and perhaps even during the recess—they’ll have to engage in another battle, this time over the state budget.