On Monday afternoon, the coalition faltered in the Knesset, as the final legislative week before the parliament goes on a break for Passover till next Sunday saw a weak opening. It was unable to bring its two flagship pieces of legislation to a vote. The first was to restrict the prime ministerial term to eight years consecutively and a reform of converting to Judaism. The bill that term limits premiership has been awaiting its third and final reading, but it can only be passed when there is a majority vote of 61 in the 120-seat parliament. This is because the legislation would amend a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, but the coalition does not have this majority.
Avi Maoz, the opposition MK, is suffering from COVID-19 and since the opposition and coalition had agreed to cancel out vote for legislators who are sick from the coronavirus, it means the coalition lacks one vote and had to withdraw the bill. Implementing term limits is one of the significant reforms of Gideon Sa’ar, the Justice Minister. However, it should be noted that the bill would not be applicable retroactively to Sa’ar’s political rival, the opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
As far as the conversion reform is concerned, its aim is to allow municipal-level and regional rabbinical courts to give approval for admission to Judaism, thereby wresting the process from the hold of the Chief Rabbinate. However, this reform had been pulled before the first reading. The Islamist Ra’am party, which is part of the coalition, had said that it would not interfere in Jewish religious matters, so the coalition was not able to get enough votes needed. The coalition had been depending on Ra’am to suspend their practice of refraining from interfering in Jewish religious matters. The expectation was that the Jewish parties in the coalition return the favor where Muslim institutions are concerned.
However, the party had withdrawn the support primarily because of the pressure from national religious and ultra-Orthodox parties. The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party in the opposition, MK Bezalel Smotrich had threatened to interfere in Islamic affairs if Ra’am gave its support for the conversion reform. He tweeted that if they party harms Judaism, they would do the same to Islam upon returning to power. He had sent a letter to Ra’am on Monday before the legislative plenum opened and stated in it that a direct line was drawn between Islamic-Jewish relations and Ra’am’s support for the law.
Not only did they lose the four votes from the Ra’am party, but Abir Kara, the Yamina MK, had also backed out because the coalition had failed to deliver on the measures that were promised to him last week. This had been in return for his support of the military pension bill, which includes advancing regulatory changes and financial support for the self-employed. The conversion and term limit bills are not expected to return before the Passover recess, which will come to an end on May 9th.