I recently received an anxious phone call from an Israeli coalition MK. Due to a mix-up in the Knesset scheduling he left early for an overseas vacation.
“They want me to come back to Israel because of you,” the affable MK said to me. I inquired as to what I had done wrong.
“You are going to vote against the Governance Act,” he replied. “It is a Basic Law and the coalition needs 61 votes to pass it. If you plan to vote against the law, as you did the last time it was voted upon in the Knesset, they will force me to come back to Israel to vote.”
It was a very awkward moment, as the MK is my friend.
“Look,” I said to him, “my problem with this law is not the raising of the votes threshold [required to win a Knesset seat]. I actually support that measure. I also have no problem with limiting the number of ministers in the government. On the contrary, I would be pleased if they would lower the number of ministers to fewer than 10. My problem is with the part of the law that requires 61 signatures in order to submit a no-confidence measure in the Knesset. This will actually neutralize the no-confidence option because if you have 61 signatures, you already have a new coalition; thus no need for no confidence.
“In this situation,” I continued, “I am terribly sorry to say that you will have to come back to Israel. There is no way that I am going to vote in favor of legislation that eliminates the Opposition just to be nice to a friend. But let me check once more. Perhaps the 61-clause was taken out of the legislation. In that case, with or without your vacation troubles, I will support the law.”
I called MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), head of the Knesset’s Constitution Committee.
“Please explain to me exactly what the new version of the law says,” I asked him. “Does it still require 61 signatures for a no-confidence vote?”
“No,” Rotem replied. “The new version allows for the submission of a no-confidence measure just like it is now, except that instead of allowing for it once a week, it will be once a month. In addition, the prime minister will have to be present during the deliberations.” (I agreed to that immediately). “If you have 61 signatures,” Rotem added, “you will be able to submit the no-confidence measure in the same week. [There will be] no need to wait a month.”
I was very pleased. First, I am happy that my MK friend will not have to cut short his vacation. But more than that, I am happy because I know that I have a part in the transformation that this law underwent: from a bad law to a just and even important law. The farce of bountiful no-confidence votes, which keeps the entire government running back and forth to the plenum in the middle of their week’s work in order to reject every hiccup from Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), was in dire need of balance. On the other hand, those in the government who thought that they could take advantage of this problem in order to undermine civil liberties also had to change.
“Enjoy your vacation and don’t forget to bring me a souvenir,” I happily told the anxious MK.