MK Sharren Haskel is one of the impressive young Likud MKs in the 20th Knesset – one of seven women in the Likud parliamentary group and one of the four first-timers.
Unfortunately, we might not be seeing her in the 21st Knesset, due to her “excessive” independence, which time and again gets her into trouble with the coalition management, and especially its last two chairmen, MKs David Bitan and now David Amsalem. Her opponents in the Likud have marked her as one of the members who allegedly owe their Knesset seat to the “New Likudniks,” who some view as representatives of the true, liberal Likud, but others view as a left-wing Trojan horse trying to perform a hostile takeover of the party.
Haskel’s last embroilment with the coalition management resulted from her refusal to support the “Supermarkets Law” submitted by Interior Minister Arye Deri, to enable him to prevent municipalities and local councils from allowing commercial activity on Shabbat, even though Deri had threatened to break up the coalition if his bill was not passed with haste.
All this was explained to Haskel in no uncertain terms by both Amsalem and by the prime minister himself. Haskel’s objection to the law is ideological, but what apparently finally convinced her to simply stay away from the plenum during the voting was Amsalem’s petition to the internal Likud tribunal to have her thrown out of the party for her refusal to accept the decision of Likud parliamentary group to support the legislation, even though many Likud MKs had, and still have, serious reservations about it, both on ideological and practical/political grounds.
Presumably Amsalem assumed (mistakenly) that throwing Haskel out of the Likud would lead to her losing her Knesset seat as well.
Though the Likud tribunal rejected the petition on the grounds that it was premature (the voting on the bill in second and third readings had not yet taken place), Amsalem’s move took coalition discipline to further extremes, previously unheard of.
As I wrote here last month (“Coalition discipline abuse”), parliamentary group and coalition discipline are perfectly legitimate, especially in countries that have parliamentary systems of government. In fact, since in parliamentary democracies the government’s survival depends on its enjoying a majority in the parliament, in cases where the government enjoys only a small majority coalition discipline is a sine qua non. Furthermore, it is considered perfectly legitimate for parties and parliamentary groups to punish rebellious MPs, and sanctions may include removal of support from such MPs seeking reelection, and limitations on their activities in parliament.
What they cannot do is remove such an MP from parliament during its current term. In fact, a 2011 study found that of 162 states examined (including Israel), only five (Israel not among them) allow parties to remove rebellious members from parliament. In Israel the High Court of Justice confirmed that even though MKs are elected on party lists, and are subject to parliamentary group discipline, they do not owe their seat to their party and owe allegiance to the state and to “the people,” so that they may disobey parliamentary group discipline on matters of principle.
In the Knesset there have been quite a few cases of parliamentary groups that have prevented MKs who have violated parliamentary group discipline from submitting private members’ bills, motions for the agenda and questions to ministers, as well as blocking their participation in committee meetings (in the current Knesset MK Oren Hazan has on occasion been subject to such sanctions), but never has such an MK been thrown out of their party, and subsequently from their parliamentary group.
In fact, none of the relevant laws or the Knesset rules of procedure envision such a situation. All the provisions dealing with relations between MKs and their parliamentary groups envision MKs seeking to break away from their parliamentary group without resigning their Knesset seat, and are intent on dissuading them from doing so, by placing major obstacles along their way if they do. Certainly, in a situation where an MK has no desire to leave his parliamentary group, but is forced to do so by his party there is no justification for punishing him again by limiting his ability to continue to function in the Knesset as an independent MK, or being reelected.
We do not know at this stage whether Amsalem will pursue his efforts to have Haskel thrown out of Likud, after she persisted in her refusal to support the controversial legislation, though she avoided acting in a manner that might have brought down the government. The bill was passed in second and third readings last Tuesday morning by a narrow majority of 58 in favor and 57 against. Had Haskel realized her original intention of voting against the bill, the nays would have had 58 votes and the ayes 57.
If Amsalem decides to go ahead with his original intention out of a desire for vengeance, despite warnings that this might well harm the Likud electorally, Haskel will certainly have to weigh her options. Assuming that she will not be prohibited from joining another Knesset parliamentary group (which individual MKs leaving their parliamentary group are prevented from doing) she could decide to join Kulanu, which for all effects and purposes is a mild and liberal version of the Likud. However, all opinion polls predict that Kulanu will lose seats in the next election, so that Haskel’s chances of being reelected within the Kulanu list seem slim.
However, Haskel has already announced that having served in the Border Police during her military service, she is not afraid of a fight, and has no intention of turning the other cheek. However, even if she remains in the Likud her chances of entering the Likud list for the 21st Knesset are said to be slim. The new Likud appears to be wary of the likes of Haskel, who despite holding clear right-wing positions regarding the future of Judea and Samaria, and owns up to holding neo-liberal economic views, also believes in individual rights, personal freedom (including the freedom from religious coercion), and supports green causes.
Nevertheless, in the Likudiyada in Eilat last weekend Haskel is reported to have been elected to the 18th place in the mock primaries held there – so who knows.
The only other question left is whether following last week’s events limits should be placed on the way coalition discipline is being applied these days. Though Amsalem is not in breach of any rule or law when he continues to act like an elephant in a china store, he is certainly in breach of the spirit of the democratic system. If last time I ended my article saying that the situation might change if the coalition MKs cry out that “enough is enough,” this time I would add that the problem goes well beyond the coalition, and requires action on behalf of the Knesset as a whole – if it dares.