Wednesday’s session on December 15th lasted about eight hours. Eight bills were discussed. Five bills were advanced, one was defeated, one was turned into a motion and one was postponed until next week. The first two bills that passed, known as the “Military Conversion Bill,” would allow the rabbi of the army to have the same authority as that of the rabbis of the State. A bill that would cancel credit card purchase fees and a bill that would no longer require a consumer to commit to a company for a specified amount of time were both advanced as well. A bill that would increase the punishment for nationalistic arsonists was defeated, just a week after the Carmel fire.
- Deputy Health Minister Litzman (U.T.J.) and Homeland Security Minister Aharonovitch (Y.B.) answered urgent queries at the beginning of the session.
- The motion on the disaster up north was voted on. Meretz’s speeches were defeated 23-40, National Union’s speeches were defeated 3-62, the three Israeli Arab parties’ speeches were defeated 24-38 and Kadima’s speeches were defeated 26-40. The Likud’s speeches were accepted 38-28.
- Seven other motions were discussed on the hot topics of the day. Four motions were passed and sent to committees for further discussion by votes of 13-3, 11-0, 10-1-1 and 5-0. Three motions were defeated and will not reach committee by votes of 7-8, 4-10 and 3-3.
- Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai (Labor) answered queries toward the end of the session.
Military Conversion Bill
Before the bill was discussed Speaker Rivlin warned that he would preside over this bill with an iron fist and would not allow any rioting.
MK Rotem (Y.B.) explained that the army has been converting gentiles into Jews for years and that the validity of those conversions was never questioned. He added that his Conversion Bill passed its preliminary reading without the section dealing with military conversions earlier this year. He was asked to split the bill into two in order to buy more time for negotiating the military conversions. He noted that Israel’s Chief Rabbi Amar chose to avoid the negotiating table for 90 days and then asked for an extension. Rotem slammed the proposal that would have two types of conversions. He questioned why the same court and judges that currently convert both military and non-military groups would have to split those they convert into two. He charged that the court doesn’t want to convert soldiers and that this bill will force them to convert everyone equally. He added that former Israel Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef supported military conversions when he was in charge of Israel’s conversions. Rotem was interrupted several times during his speech.
The government chose not to support or oppose the bill, so no minister responded.
Amendment to the Religious Community Conversion Ordinance Bill
MK Orlev (J.H.) explained that his similar amendment would allow the army to present a soldier a certificate of conversion to Judaism during his military service. He explained that this bill would help the 800 soldiers who are currently enrolled in the army’s conversion program to receive the same rights that the previous 4,000 military converts have received over the last fifty years. He explained that this bill would allow the Army Chief Rabbi to receive the same rights of conversion as the Israel Chief Rabbi in the matter of approving the conversions by the rabbinical courts.
The government chose not to support or oppose the bill, so no minister responded.
MK Gafni (U.T.J.) objected to the bills. He noted that the National Religious Party created the position of the Israel Chief Rabbi and today is destroying it. He asked why a medic who passes a course in the army is not good enough to become a doctor, but a person who is converted in the army is good enough to be a Jew in civilian life. He said that his public voted against the formation of the chief rabbinate but accepted it, and this bill pushes his community to question if they will accept the chief rabbinate any longer. Gafni attacked Rotem and Orlev for dividing the nation by creating a conversion certificate “a” and a conversion certificate “b”.
Interior Minister Yishai (Shas) objected to the bills. He warned that this was the most dangerous bill he has seen since he was elected to the Knesset. He quoted a letter from the Army Chief Rabbi to Rabbi Drukman outlining his objection to the conversion bills. He asked Rotem and Orlev to please delay the voting on these bills for the sake of Israel’s future as a Jewish state.
MK Rotem responded that Yishai is the one who wants the headlines. He attacked Gafni who does not eat the chief rabbinate’s kosher products and noted that every religious practice in Israel has more than one track.
MK Orlev responded that the connection between synagogue and state is the foundation of the national religious Zionists. He said that there is no reason to worry that the orthodox will not control the conversions, just like there is no reason to worry that the orthodox will no longer control the kosher supervisions.
MK Sheetrit (Kadima) said that he objected to the bills but supported the content of the bills.
Rotem’s bill passed its preliminary reading 74-18 (28 MKs not present) and was sent to the House Committee to decide which committee would discuss the bill further.
Orlev’s bill passed its preliminary reading 75-18-7 (20 MKs not present) and was sent to the House Committee to decide which committee would discuss the bill further.
Amendment to the Debit Cards Bill
MK Danon (Likud) explained that his amendment would enable all credit and debit cards to clear on any machine. He said that this would put an end to a person presenting a credit card and being told that the particular credit card company is not accepted by that business. He added that businesses will no longer be charged the credit card interest and fees for every transaction and that this will allow them to lower their prices. He concluded by declaring this a day of celebration for small businesses, the end of credit card companies’ monopolies, and the future lowering of prices for the consumer.
The minister who was supposed to submit the government’s position was davening mincha, and Speaker Rivlin decided to call for a vote anyway.
The bill passed its preliminary reading 18-0 and was sent to the Finance Committee.
Amendment to the Consumer Protection Bill
MK Cabel (Labor) explained that his amendment would prohibit companies from adding a conditional clause in a business deal or transaction that would require the consumer to commit to the company for a specified period of time.
Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Noked (Labor) expressed government support for the bill and said that this bill will change every day life as we know it.
The bill passed its preliminary reading 14-0 and was sent to the Finance Committee.
Amendment to the Defamation (Lashon Hara) Bill
MK Orlev explained that his amendment would combat the internet comments that cause injustice by spreading “lashon hara” about other people.
Bureaucracy Minister Eitan (Likud) pondered if the internet needs legislative boundaries. He added that technology must accept moral values and codes of conduct. He expressed government support for the bill.
MK Yacimovich (Labor) objected to the bill on the grounds that it limits freedom of expression and freedom of the press. She said that according to the current Defamation Bill, “lashon hara” only applies if you know the person that is being talked about, which means that this amendment- which would extend the current bill to the internet- is trying to protect the MKs. She stated that she opposes any bill that protects MKs. She recalled her opposition to the closing of Arutz Sheva on the grounds of freedom of expression as well.
MK Orlev responded that there are other people in the news beside politicians, such as celebrities, athletes and scientists. He asked how it could harm freedom of expression if the bill currently applies to all instances other than the internet. He explained that his amendment would close a loophole in the system. He pondered why we were sending a message to the public that if they want to break the law they can only do it online.
The bill passed its preliminary reading 27-0 and was sent to the Science Committee.
Amendment to the Penal Code Bill
MK Katzeleh (N.U.) explained that his amendment would institute mandatory jail time and an increased punishment for arsonists who destroy public property for nationalistic reasons compared to arsonists who destroy public property for criminal reasons. He noted that additional fires that were set during the Carmel fire could have been prevented if the arsonists knew that they were facing hard time. He asked how a bill could be more moral than right after we buried 43 of our dead. He quoted Mark Twain, who on his trip to Israel asked, “this is the empty holy land that everyone is fighting over?” and he answered that now that Israel is blossoming, there are those who wish to burn it down.
MK Eitan expressed government opposition to the bill. He defended the judges in Israel and said that there is no reason to interfere with their discretion. He denied a need to create a separation between nationalistic and criminal arsonists.
MK Katzeleh responded that a government that votes against this bill cannot call themselves a right-wing government.
The bill was defeated 8-42.
Motion/Amendment to the National Insurance Bill
MK Ghilon (Meretz) explained that his amendment would discontinue estate tax and entitle those who inherit their loved one’s money or belongings to do so without penalty. He stated that estate tax should not apply to those who have a will, and this bill will correct this tragedy.
Labor and Welfare Minister Herzog (Labor) expressed government opposition to the bill on the grounds that every western country has estate tax. He suggested that Ghilon turn the bill into a motion and discuss the subject in the committees.
MK Ghilon responded that a socialistic bill will always fall in a capitalistic government, but he felt that this was among the worst of this government’s decisions. He agreed to turn it into a motion.
The motion was passed 47-0 and was sent to the Labor Committee.
Amendment to the Traffic Ordinance Bill
MK Bielski (Kadima) explained that his amendment would require a minimum sentence for abandoning a person injured in an accident and the prohibition of accepting a plea bargain with the defendant for such an offense. He noted that Ministers Erdan and Simhon proposed similar bills in the past and are both now against their own bill. He blasted Judge Saliwan for sending a hit-and-run driver with an expired license who killed a 90-year-old woman to prison for only three years. He told another story of a hit-and-run driver who put a 12-year-old child in a coma, and the State accepted a plea bargain against the parents’ wishes. He listed countless other cases.
Coalition Chairman MK Elkin said that the government will agree to support the bill if Bielski withdraws it, agrees to merge his amendment with MK Matalon’s (Y.B.) from last week and waits until next week.
MK Bielski agreed.