Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Kislev 5761 - November 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

Legislating Elections

Evidence that early elections are nearing is the series of election laws which have been laid before the Knesset to debate and vote on. During normal times Knesset members prefer to address various issues, but when elections approach, as would be expected, an assortment of bills proposing election changes appear.

For example, it has already been decided that in another few weeks the Legislative Committee will discuss a request to apply the law of succession to the proposal to change the law on direct prime ministerial elections. This bill received approval in a first reading during the last Knesset, and in order to continue with legislative proceedings from the point at which they were discontinued, the law of succession has to be applied from the 14th to the 15th Knesset.

The 15th Knesset convened almost a year and a half ago, but no one was anxious to discuss the request to apply the law of succession. When there are no elections, there is no need to rush. The fact that a decision was recently made to bring the succession request up for discussion and a vote shows that the smell of elections is in the air and anyone who wants to complete proceedings or make changes better hurry.

Rabbi Shmuel Halpert also tried to make a legislative change which would allow the minimum voting age to be lowered from 18 to 17. His reasoning was very straightforward: Seventeen-year- olds will be permitted to vote in the next local elections, following a change in the law, so why should they be permitted to vote for the City Council but not for the Knesset? The second justification was that a 17-year-old is allowed to apply for a driver's license, meaning in this case the authorities treat him as an adult, so why shouldn't he be allowed to vote?

Due to government opposition, the bill was rejected. One of the reasons given to oppose the bill was that it would be illogical to bring politics and differences of opinion among the Jewish people into the schools and the education system. This reasoning is totally ludicrous since seventeen-year-olds are very involved and well-aware of politics, and politics are deeply entrenched in the schools anyway. It would be safer to assume that the opposition stems from an entirely different reason: the sectors which would benefit the most from a lower voting age are the chareidi and national religious sectors and the Arab sector, and the government heads now in office would not look favorably on the idea of strengthening the political potential of these sectors.

On the other hand, Meir Sheetrit (Likud) did manage to pass an interesting bill designed to encourage greater voter turnout in the Knesset in a preliminary reading. Election day would be a vacation day. According to Sheetrit's proposed bill, those who vote would be given the day off, while those who choose not to vote would have to pay for this day off by subtracting it from the number of annual vacation days to which the worker is entitled. The precise mechanism by which the law would be applied will be determined in forthcoming legislative proceedings.

The chareidi sector, as is well-known, does not need a bill to spur its voters to go to the polls to vote, and does so based on directives from gedolei Torah who indicate who to vote for, and everyone goes to the polls to carry out the mitzvah of kechol asher yorucha. The voter turnout within the chareidi sector is the highest in the country and is an object of envy for the secular sectors and parties, for the call of gedolei Torah is powerful and more binding than any piece of legislature.

Melchior's Innocence

The bill was before the Knesset for a number of weeks, and was finally approved on Monday by a vote of 84 to 19. Due to Shas' decision to grant the government a safety net, the 61 votes needed to pass the bill were not available until then. Last week Shas members announced that they would support the bill, thereby providing the votes to pass the bill.

Following Shas' decision to support the law, once it became clear that the law would pass anyway, the government decided to join in supporting the bill, but avoided making its position known publicly in the Knesset.

Before the final vote last Monday, Arab Knesset members, who of course opposed to bill, tried to turn the bill into a no- confidence motion in the Prime Minister in order to delay the vote until this week. According to regulations, when the government does not indicate its position on a given bill before the Knesset, the bill cannot be turned into a no- confidence motion. The government did not articulate its stance during the course of the proceedings, but when the votes were cast, only one minister sat beside the government's table: Michael Melchior. Melchior is not conversant with Knesset regulations--to put it mildly--and is unaware of the rules and procedures. When he was asked by meeting chairman Reuven Rivlin whether the government had a position on the matter, instead of ignoring the question and keeping his mouth shut, in his innocence he replied that the government supports the bill.

Melchior, through his innocence and lack of knowledge (he has only served as minister and never as a Knesset member), replied naively to the chairman's question, but his answer led to the opposite of his intentions. He had come to the plenum to vote in favor of the bill, but after his reply that the government supports the bill, the vote was delayed until yesterday when it was passed. If Melchior had been familiar with the rules and had understood the significance of what he was saying, it is very doubtful that he would have answered the chairman. It is more likely that he would have ignored the question and held his tongue.

Budget Bypasses Shochat

Members of the Knesset Finance Committee have a surprise in store for the finance minister. They are trying to prepare the 2001 budget for him, a sort of Shochat bypass route, in light of the fact that the 2001 budget has not yet been approved even in a first reading, due to the finance minister's inability to secure a majority vote.

At a time like this, just one month before the beginning of the next budget year, the Finance Committee is typically already deep in budget talks and the arrangement law which accompanies it, and is in second and third readings. This year, however, the budget has yet to be approved even in a first reading due to the sorry political situation which the government is facing, and the fact that the Knesset effectively has no coalition.

In the present situation Finance Committee members have taken the matter into the own hands and have decided to try to forge agreements among themselves on the budget, thereby dictating a budget to the finance minister without much consideration of his preferences or the Finance Ministry's preferences. Almost all of the members of the Finance Committee agreed to the arrangement which was put in writing in a memorandum, including MK's from the right and the left and the chareidi and national religious factions, along with representatives from One Israel and Meretz. They decided that negotiations would only be conducted directly with Finance Committee Chairman Eli Goldschmidt (One Israel), who would effectively play the role of finance minister.

Committee members do not intend to change the budget's general framework. Their intention was not to deliver such a stinging slap in the face to the Finance Ministry. All they intend to do is to slice up the pie a bit differently from the way the Finance Ministry had planned, thus meeting the demands of various Knesset members. For example, if a majority of committee members are in agreement that certain budgets have to be granted for various issues, such as health, welfare, agriculture, tourism, education, defense, etc., nothing will prevent them from instituting the requested budget, with all due respect to the Finance Ministry, which thinks otherwise, and Beiga Shochat, who had hoped to bring a different budget before the Knesset for approval.

Knesset members believe that if they reach agreements among themselves, there will be no problem assembling a large majority to support the budget since representatives from most of the factions in the Knesset sit on the committee. They also claim, and rightfully so, that the agreements that have been reached so far, prior to the first reading, will shorten the proceedings and prevent the need for long, drawn-out talks with sleepless nights as the second and third readings approach, as has been the case in previous years.

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