Two bills ran into trouble this week because there weren’t enough MKs around to vote for them. Not because there were disagreements in the coalition about the legislation. Not for any particular reason. People just weren’t around.
One would make it tougher for convicted terrorists to run for seats in the Knesset, an amendment to a Basic Law that needed 60 votes, and there weren’t that many coalition members in the building.
The other is about lowering the age of automatic child custody for divorced moms, which passed with 33 in favor. But MKs raised questions of the vote’s validity, because legislation that costs enough to be a budgetary item needs at least 50 yes votes.
Having too many MKs absent is not an unprecedented event, but it’s very unusual for the end of a Knesset session, when the legislature “cleans the table” and tries to pass as many bills as possible. It’s even more unusual in this case when the coalition is theoretically trying to pass the 2019 budget, so it really needed to get everything else done this week to make time for the long, intensive budget votes next week, which is the winter session’s last.
But the Knesset didn’t have the hustle and bustle of the end of a session. The MK cafeteria wasn’t packed with lawmakers talking to activists and journalists, making sure to glance at the screens on the wall showing the Knesset Channel to make sure they get back into the plenum across the hall in time to vote.
Instead, the atmosphere this week was one of uncertainty. The cafeteria was relatively empty, and so were the halls. Quite a few of the MKs had to be thinking that they might be out of a job soon, and started thinking about putting together a primary campaign staff, or if they’re in a party without a primary, hoping for mercy from its leader.
Freshmen lawmakers asked journalists if they thought there would be an election, while the veterans – at least those who aren’t directly involved in the coalition crisis – shared their theories about what’s really happening.
Meanwhile, the Knesset is in limbo.
The budget process isn’t moving apace as would be expected the week before its final vote, but of course, that’s the center of this coalition crisis: haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MKs won’t vote for it if their exemption from the IDF isn’t legislated first. Finance Committee chairman and senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni held up his panel’s vote on the budget, although not the economic arrangements bill that is passed in tandem with it.
And when it comes to everything else, coalition chairman David Amsalem is unsuccessfully trying to put out the big fire of the haredi enlistment crisis, to the point that he’s been sidelined, but still isn’t managing to take care of the smaller fires, like whipping up 60 votes for a Basic Law amendment.
It’s not hard to understand why that’s happening. Why waste time on getting coalition partners to agree on things when the Knesset might be dispersed next week anyway?
But the absentee MKs seem to have forgotten that no one really knows how this crisis will end. If there’s no election, they just postponed passing their laws for two more months. And if there is one, they’ll have that many fewer achievements to campaign on.