What to Watch in the Knesset

29 July 2020
What to Watch in the Knesset

The New Israel Fund tracks legislation in the Knesset that could change the way Israeli democracy functions. We will provide regular updates throughout this Knesset session.

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Emergency Coronavirus Regulations:

On July 6, the Knesset passed an amendment to the temporary coronavirus law, the so-called “Frameworks Law,” which allows the government to enact emergency regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic without prior Knesset approval. Two weeks later, on July 23, it passed a broader coronavirus law entitled “The Special Powers Law for Dealing with Coronavirus” — colloquially referred to as the “major coronavirus law” — granting the government special emergency powers and allowing it effectively to circumvent the Knesset. Under the law, Knesset committees will only be able to exercise oversight retroactively, allowing the executive branch to enact emergency regulations without parliamentary debate.

Critics argued the law damages the separation of powers in Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) wrote that the law which does “not solve the problem [of previous emergency regulations, which the Supreme Court ordered be enacted instead as laws] because it also violates the principle of separation of powers, and allows the government, sometimes even the prime minister alone, to enact preliminary regulations [without oversight] and violate human rights.” The legal adviser to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, attorney Gur Blai, called the new law “irregular and unprecedented.”

See: ACRI: The Coronavirus Law Does not Solve the Problems of the Emergency Regulations (Hebrew)

Anti-Corruption Demonstrations:

Thousands of Israelis from a broad cross-section of society have taken to the streets around the country against government corruption and mismanagement of the public health and economic crisis. Demonstrators are calling for the prime minister’s resignation in the face of his corruption trial and in light of the dire economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. In recent days, protests have concentrated in Balfour Street, in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, and they have been met with brutal police tactics.

Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana has applied pressure on the Israeli Police to use more draconian measures to suppress the popular protests. According to a Channel 13 report, Minister Ohana complained to Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen that police measures against protesters were not harsh enough. On Sunday, July 25, Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, released a recording from closed meetings with Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Yadid in which Minister Ohana demanded the police “ban this whole thing.” The legal adviser to the Israeli Police reportedly informed him that this would be illegal—contrary to an order of Israel’s Supreme Court.

On July 28, the Knesset held hearings about the Israeli Police’s use of high-pressure water cannons as a means of crowd dispersal. The committee heard testimony from demonstrators who had been hit in the head with high-pressure water from point blank range. Israeli Police spokesperson Brigadier General Sigal Bar-Zvi told the committee that police have not prevented Israelis from exercising their rights to free expression, and she defended their use of crowd dispersal tools, including non-lethal force.

Equality Clause:

Yesh Atid – Telem, the opposition parties that split off from the Blue and White Party when Benny Gantz decided to take his party into a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to pass a bill amending Israel’s discriminatory Nation-State Law that would include a clause affirming a commitment to civic equality for Israel’s citizens. The move appears intended to put pressure on members of the Blue and White Party who advocated for such an amendment before Benny Gantz entered a unity government with Likud. Coalition parties voted against the amendment, while members of Blue and White and Labor were largely absent during the vote, including Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. While Blue and White voted against the amendment, the party issued a statement saying that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn is working on a bill that ensures the principle of equality through a separate basic law, rather than by amending the Nation-State Law.

The Nation-State Law, passed in 2018, discriminates against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and harms Israel’s democratic character.

See: NIF Backgrounder — The Nation State Law

Conversion Therapy Bill

On July 22, Knesset passed a bill banning conversion therapy, in its preliminary reading, though it will require three more Knesset votes to become law. The bill, sponsored by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), prohibits Israeli psychologists from practicing “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, a set of discredited, ineffective, and harmful interventions that aim to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. Critics who want to see a stronger prohibition note that it applies to licensed psychologists and does not restrict rabbis or clergy who may engage in the practice — nor does it carry any criminal penalty.

Israel’s Council of Psychologists and the Israel Psychological Association have opposed the practice since 2011. Israel’s Health Ministry endorsed the Association’s position in 2014. This week, Chairman of the Israel Psychiatric Association, Dr. Zvi Fishel, commended the Knesset for saving lives and condemned renegade ‘therapists’ “who are violating the first rule of medical ethics: Do no harm.” In July 2019, far-right Education Minister Rafi Peretz in Israel’s transition government endorsed the discredited practice, causing a public outcry.

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party broke with the coalition, which opposed the bill banning the practice, and voted in favor of the bill, as did Likud’s sole gay minister, Amir Ohana, along members of Israel’s Labor Party. (Minister Ohana resigned his seat in the Knesset as allowed under the recently legislated Norwegian Law, so he will not have to vote against the coalition in future votes on this bill.) While the bill passed its first reading, destabilizing the coalition which includes ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose LGBTQ rights, it is not expected to be voted into law.