Our Knesset sleuth’s weekly round-up: Teflon Kahlon; Six-term Bibi? Oren Hazan’s comeback
MK Avigdor Liberman’s fifteen minutes of fame began and ended on Monday. He savored every moment of them, surrounded as he was by members of his faction, with the attentive media crowding into his Knesset office to get his views on live broadcast.
Liberman had a tough time deciding between his own abhorrence of Benjamin Netanyahu and his desire to hurt him politically on the one hand, and his commitment to the natural-gas plan on the other. The moment he saw how closely everyone was listening to him, he started making jokes.
Israel’s political news this week can be summed up in the feeling that the joke is on us.
The government’s natural-gas plan, which had been hidden from the public, was finally exposed in a kind of “hearing” that went on for two weeks.
During that period, a new bit of information came to light each day: the involvement of American diplomats who telephoned Israeli Knesset members to talk with them about their votes in the Knesset, elected officials in conflicts of interest who refused to vote in the plenum, and governmental betrayal of antitrust fundamentals — the very principles that had been set down in law to protect the public in the first place.
How can we explain the fact that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is coming under nothing more than weak criticism for his avoidance of responsibility? Before the election, Kahlon promised to break up the natural-gas monopoly. His rapid retreat from that promise, on the grounds of his personal friendship with Jackob Maimon (who denies any connection with Isramco holdings), hardly caused a stir. Columns against Kahlon have been written here and there. But let us recall that the previous finance minister, Yair Lapid, was raked over the coals two years ago, at exactly the same early stage in the life of a coalition, for every Facebook status he wrote and every statement or decision he made. Lapid did not even come close to Kahlon’s public backpedaling this month.
If the finance minister cannot cope with decisions that have to do with such a significant source of state revenue over the coming decades, then what he is doing in the Finance Ministry at all? What did he want a toolbox for?
I walked around the Knesset building on Monday evening. The atmosphere in the corridors could only be described as boiling hot. In the hours between the faction meetings — including Liberman’s announcement that he would vote against the prime minister’s bid to gain unimpeded authority to approve the natural-gas deal (in other words, that he would vote with the opposition even though he had agreed to the deal itself) — and Netanyahu’s realization that he did not have enough of a majority for a vote, the place was seething.
The Knesset cafeteria buzzed like a beehive. Coalition whip Tzachi Hanegbi needed something like Waze to keep track of where the Knesset members were. Opposition MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List was near the Ashdod Port after having disembarked from the flotilla. Two other Knesset members from his faction, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, announced that they were setting out to meet him in Ashdod. Actually, they did not go far from Jerusalem. Another Knesset member from the Zionist Union, Danny Atar, approached the Knesset but remained outside so that the electronic registration system would not identify him as being in the building.
The purpose of these tricks by opposition MKs was to confuse the coalition, so that perhaps they would feel safe holding the vote with the 58 members who were present.
Ghattas announced that he had gotten off the boat in Ashdod and would hurry to the Knesset to participate in the vote. Danny Atar entered the building. And coalition officials realized that they had no chance of getting the vote through. This is no way to run a coalition.
In brief: A few little things that escaped wider notice
• The Zionist Union and Joint List factions proposed a bill limiting a prime minister to two terms in office. To make it easier for the coalition to take, they said that if the bill was passed into law, it would not apply retroactively.
So Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009 — and if we add in his first term, which began in 1996, he is serving his fourth term as prime minister — would be allowed to serve two more terms (his fifth and sixth) until the restriction took effect. One of the factions that signed the bill was Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.
• Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni lamented in the Knesset plenum that he was compelled to vote for the government’s natural-gas plan even though he was personally against it (“Shelly Yachimovich is my authority when it comes to natural gas,” he said over and over of the Zionist Union MK). Why does he not follow his conscience and show his opposition by doing more than heckle occasionally from the bench?
• The Knesset’s Ethics Committee convened in good time. But the alleged misdeeds of Likud MK Oren Hazan in Bulgaria and the threats he made against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein several weeks ago were not on the agenda at all. If all is well concerning the hedonistic Hazan, why does Edelstein not reinstate him as deputy Knesset speaker?