Kafe Knesset for September 15

A blessed distraction for Bibi: Netanyahu’s Latin American tour continued this week. So far, he can call the trip a success on a few levels. Sure, when Bibi gets back, he will probably complain again that the media does not give enough attention to good news. Who is talking about how well he got along with the Argentinian president? Why weren’t there more headlines regarding the Colombian president’s appreciation for Israel’s help to Columbia in clearing landmines? Does no one care how much the Mexican Jewish community loves him? But it is hard to imagine that he will really be that upset about it. After all, no one is really talking about the many corruption investigations in which Bibi is implicated. Netanyahu may have a jam-packed schedule, and he certainly is not relaxing, but this kind of trip is still a relief for him, since he does not have to deal with day-to-day dirty politics. The Haredim may be furious over the Supreme Court’s ruling requiring IDF conscription for yeshiva students, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett may be stirring up political trouble (more on that later), but Netanyahu can revel in the photo-ops and diplomatic accomplishments in the meantime. And next week, the premier will get to do what he loves best – give a bombastic, headline-making speech at the UN. Maybe there will even be props.

Framers of the constitution? Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked dropped a bombshell last night, announcing a plan to institute a constitution for Israel. Their plan is inspired by repeated Supreme Court intervention in legislation, which they and much of the Right feel is not legitimate. Therefore, their proposed constitution would regulate the separation of government powers in Israel, or “restore the balance,” as they put it. Part of that would be a clause allowing the Knesset to re-enact laws that the court cancels. The Bennett-Shaked constitution would also include what is commonly known as the “nationality bill,” declaring Israel to be the Jewish State, which has been floating around the Knesset in various forms for years and is very controversial. And the rest of the current Basic Laws would be in there, as well. Bennett said. “The High Court of Justice has disqualified Knesset legislation and government decisions such as the draft for the deportation of illegal immigrants, the budget law, and the revoking of citizenship from members of Hamas. This new situation, in which cancelling laws had become routine, will force us, legislators elected by the public, to act and restore the needed balance between the authorities, and that is what we are doing today.” Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us not forget that Israel has thrived for 69 years without a constitution. Many have tried adopting a constitution in the past, and just because they want something to happen does not mean that the rest of the coalition will go for it. The apparent futility of this effort did not stop the opposition from being up in arms over the proposal. Former justice minister Tzipi Livni said “they don’t want a constitution; they want to destroy democracy and the Supreme Court.”

Can a Likudnik be anti-Bibi? That is the question the Likud party court will have to adjudicate in the next month. Yesterday, the Likud party court held a hearing about 14 party members who were caught attending the weekly protests outside the Attorney-General’s home calling for Netanyahu to be indicted on corruption charges. Most of the people who faced petitions calling for their ouster from the party are part of a group called the “New Likudniks,” who say they want to make the party more moderate. But many feel the “New Likudniks” are attempting a hostile leftist takeover. That was the gist of coalition chairman David Bitan’s argument against them in court. If they do not agree with what the Likud is doing, they should not be in the party. The New Likudniks argued they are entitled to freedom of expression and conscience, and they identify with the values listed in the Likud’s constitution. The discussion broke down into a very heated dispute between Bitan and MK Yehudah Glick. Glick said he is there in the name of Voltaire’s values of free speech. Bitan did not seem to know who that is. Glick also criticized the coalition chairman, calling him “Bitan the 14 – the party is me!” as in, if you don’t agree with Bitan, you’re out. Glick said that he is worried about this trend in the Likud. Bitan, for his part, said the New Likudniks are collaborating with other parties to bring down the Likud. In any case, like everything else in Israel this time of year, a decision is not expected to be made by the court until after the holidays.

King Avi: Labor leader Avi Gabbay bolstered his power within the party yesterday. The Labor party conference approved a proposal to allow Gabbay to make some unilateral moves. These steps includee designating certain spots on its Knesset member list for the next election and, should Labor be in a coalition, to choose ministers. This makes it more likely that Gabbay is going to try to bring in “stars” to the party, something that longtime MKs and activists often resent. But chances are that Gabbay will try to go after the many former IDF chiefs of staff and generals who are currently outside the political sphere. Gabbay’s proposal was controversial at first, but he managed to bring much of the party’s leadership to his side – except for its secretary-general Eran Hermoni. Since Hermoni didn’t support Gabbay, the party leader kept Hermoni from the traditional role of emcee of the party conference.

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