JERUSALEM (JNS) — The COVID-19 pandemic cast a pall over the swearing in of Israel’s 23rd Knesset on Monday, with the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers being sworn in three at a time to avoid spreading the disease, while Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein delivered speeches to a nearly empty hall. This is the third Knesset to be sworn in fewer than 12 months, due to an ongoing political impasse that has paralyzed the country’s government.
Nevertheless, lawmakers quickly got to work, introducing a series of extraordinary bills designed specifically to remove Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.
The first bombshell was sponsored by Knesset member Oded Forer of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party.
His bill would grant the Knesset the authority, with a simple majority and via a secret ballot, to oust an indicted prime minister heading a transitional government. Netanyahu is currently serving as de facto prime minister because three election cycles in a row have failed to produce a permanent government, and has been indicted in three corruption cases. So this legislation is specifically aimed at removing him from office.
Forer told JNS that “it is clear to us that Netanyahu wants to lead Israel to a fourth election. He thinks he will do better in the next round on the heels of directing Israel through the coronavirus crisis. We promised that we would not allow the country to go to a fourth election; that is what we are doing with this law. Our party will guide Israel towards a wide-ranging, Zionistic and liberal government.”
Forer’s bill also states that if a prime minister faces criminal charges, then any MK can put in a request to remove him from office. The Knesset House Committee would then have one week to hold a vote on whether to recommend that the Knesset accept the petition. If it passes the committee it would go to the Knesset floor for a vote. If it passes the Knesset, then the government would choose a new prime minister from the party of the ousted one.
The bill explains that secret ballots are needed for all these votes “to ensure that Knesset members vote according to their personal opinion, rather than party considerations and coalition pressure.”
The bill sent shock waves through the Knesset as it became clear that a majority exists to pass the measure.
Three new laws on the docket
The tension became even more palpable after the Blue and White Party, led by Benny Gantz, announced that it filed three new bills. The first would limit prime ministers to two terms in office. To date, Netanyahu has served four regular terms, so if this bill were enacted he would be unable to serve for another term. The second bill seeks to prohibit anyone facing criminal charges from serving as prime minister. The third bill would forbid the president to give an indicted MK a mandate to form a government.
While all three laws are clearly aimed directly at Netanyahu, Blue and White MK Boaz Toporovsky told JNS that “these are basic, normal laws that any functional democratic country should have on the books.”
Blue and White has already secured a majority to pass these laws with Labor-Meretz, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint Arab List already having pledged their support.
The Likud Party released an immediate response, saying in a statement that the proposed legislation was “malicious and irresponsible” while the country is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement went on to say that “outwardly, [Blue and White] are presenting a façade, as if they are willing to form a unity government, but in practice they are promoting personal, anti-democratic and retroactive laws with the sole purpose of thwarting the will of over 2.5 million citizens. Such things aren’t even done in Iran or Turkey.”
Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) told Channel 12 that the bills are “despicable,” and said “there is a feeling that the left can do whatever it wants to do.”
Blue and White is also trying to oust Knesset Speaker Edelstein, and sent him a request to call a vote for a new speaker. Blue and White wants to replace him with MK Meir Cohen of Blue and White’s Yesh Atid faction. Edelstein is refusing to bring the vote to the Knesset floor, citing Knesset bylaws that require him to do so only once a new government is sworn in. Blue and White is planning to appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue.