Wednesday’s session last about seven and a half hours. The Knesset passed six different bills covering ten amendments in their preliminary readings and defeated MK Solodkin’s (Kadima) Social Housing Bill. The Knesset also approved seven of the nine motions, opting not to vote on one and defeating MK Eldad’s (N.U.) motion on the State Service Commissioner’s term extension. The “Gilad Shalit Law” and the Citizenship Bill became the talk of the day after they were both approved in their preliminary readings, but it seems unlikely that they will be advanced anytime in the near future. For the first time this summer the motions seemed more compelling than the queries, but that might be because few MKs showed up for the ministers who opened and closed the day’s session.
Urgent Queries to Health and Housing Ministers
MK Cohen (Shas) asked how three ambulances could serve the population of over 250,000 people in Haifa. Deputy Health Minister Litzman (U.T.J.) responded that there are 52 ambulances in the Haifa area. MK Ganem (Ra’am-Ta’al) complained that there aren’t enough ambulances in Sachnin. The minister said he would look into the matter. The Knesset took a ten minute recess when the siren sounded for a security drill.
MK Kirschenbaum (Y.B.) asked about the policy of determining who is eligible for government housing. Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) reviewed the levels of eligibility and priority as part of the policy that was in place from 1994 until last week. He went on to defend the new system that favors families with a large number of children by placing them at the top of the list. MKs Tzartur and Asana (Ra’am-Ta’al) complained about a housing crisis in the Israeli Arab community, specifically in Jaffa. The minister said he would not support a public housing plan with affirmative action for Arabs.
The Gilad Shalit Law – Four amendments by four MKs that are being merged into one bill.
1) Incarceration of prisoners is required bill
2) The release of kidnapped prisoners bill
3) Prisons Ordinance Bill: Amendment – Restricting visits to security prisoners
4) Prisons Ordinance Bill: Prevention of visits
These four amendments are being merged because they cover similar issues related to additional restrictions for Hamas prisoners.
MK Danon (Likud) explained that the Red Cross brings families of Hamas terrorists for weekly visits while Shalit is lucky to get a tape out once every six months. He criticized the Red Cross for not demanding rights for Shalit. Danon said the new restrictions would affect Hamas terrorists and would be lifted when Shalit is either freed or given family visits. The Arab MKs heavily heckled the speech. The new law would forbid all family visits to jailed Hamas members.
MK Levin (Likud) expressed his view that the pressure the Hamas families will put on their leadership will increase Shalit’s chance for a swift release.
MK Solodkin (Kadima) said she had proposed a similar amendment in the previous Knesset under Olmert. She expressed pride that for once the government is doing something she can agree with.
MK Eldad (N.U.) talked about terrorists finishing high school or getting a masters degree on our tax-paying shekels. Eldad asked what circumstances have changed since his amendment was rejected six months ago.
Homeland Security Minister Aharonovitz (Y.B.) said that the four amendments by the four MKs would be softened in the committees and reminded everyone it was a preliminary reading and the chances of it passing in its first reading are very low.
MK Tzartur said he hoped all security prisoners on both sides would be released.
MK Asana spoke of his visit with the Shalit family and expressed his feeling this amendment would hurt Shalit’s chances of release. He called each one of the 11,000 security prisoners “Gilad Shalits”.
MK Oron (Meretz) said after four years we need to bring Shalit home. He condemned the MKs who want to run the Prisons Authority and expressed his opposition.
MK Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) said Shalit should be released and all the security prisoners should be released. He accused Captain George in the Shabak of sexual abuse of prisoners after their arrest.
The MKs who were criticized during the speeches of the four MKs opposed to the bill were allowed to speak again.
MK Danon defended the law and said it sends a clear message to Hamas.
MK Levin said whoever draws a parallel between a kidnapped solider and murderers have no place in the Knesset and do not deserve Israeli citizenship. He called their words undemocratic. He rejected the idea that terrorists should be rehabilitated at the expense of the tax payers and said he is pleased that his amendment would put an end to these types of privileges.
MK Solodkin said it is unacceptable that Shalit is getting worse treatment than terrorists. She said the Russian community supports her completely.
MK Eldad said all of the MKs are part of a play, and the Homeland Minister is the director. He is allowing the law to be passed in its preliminary reading, but he plans to bury it in the committee. Eldad charged that the Minister has the power to make these changes and the only reason the amendments are in place is because Aharonovitz won’t do what is needed to be done. He reminded everyone that the days keep passing and with each passing day Shalit grows older.
The first amendment was passed in its preliminary reading 52-10-1. The second amendment passed 54-10. The third amendment passed 53-9 and the fourth amendment passed 51-10. A discussion on which committee the bill should be sent to forced Speaker Rivlin to send the bill to the House Committee. There were arguments for sending it to the Justice Committee, the Interior Committee and the Foreign and Defense Committee.
Debit Cards Bill (Amendment – There are details missing in the transaction document)
MK Maklev (U.T.J.) discussed the amendment that would force credit card companies to show the difference between a transaction in person and a transaction over the phone.
Finance Minister Neaman said the government supported the amendment.
The Knesset passed the amendment 36-0 in its preliminary reading and sent it to the Finance Committee.
Municipal taxes ordinance and government taxes bill (two amendments on non-profit cemeteries)
MK Gafni (U.T.J.) denounced the current law that forces families to pay city taxes on cemetery plots.
MK Azulai (Shas) said that very few cities enforce the current law. However, since a few do, we must change the law to excuse people from paying city tax on cemetery plots. He mentioned that this is a bill on which he expects the coalition and the opposition to come together.
Deputy Finance Minister Cohen (Shas) praised the two MKs and expressed the government’s approval of the amendment.
MK Shitrit (Kadima) disapproved that the amendment would exclude cemeteries that are not part of “Chevrat Kadisha” and would therefore exclude secular cemeteries, including all Israeli Arab cemeteries. He went on to criticize Chevrat Kadisha for charging $10,000 for burial of a body from overseas.
MK Gafni defended Chevrat Kadisha and asked what this argument had to with people paying city tax on cemetery plots.
The Knesset voted in favor of the two amendments 56-0-1 and 52-0 in their preliminary readings and the bill was merged into one and sent to the Funds Committee.
Social Housing Bill
MK Solodkin talked about the need for more public housing. She discussed the 150,000 public houses until 1996 and the additional housing built to answer the rising demand until 2003, thanks to the now defunct Yisrael B’Aliyah party. This bill would increase the amount of public housing by 7,000 units each year.
Housing Minister Attias said the bill offered a good idea. He also wanted to set the record straight. He claimed the government had not added one new unit in any public housing project over the last 20 years, until last year. The minister explained that since he restarted the public housing program 200,000 people have asked to be a part of the new project and that he recently changed who gets priority over whom. Attias explained that because this was a bill that would take a slice out of the budget annually the government has to oppose it.
The bill was defeated 15-44.
Citizenship Bill (Amendment – Cancellation of citizenship for an act of terrorism or espionage)
MK Rotem (Y.B.) stated that citizenship also has its obligations; it is not just about privileges. He cited other countries that revoke citizenship from people who commit treason. Rotem explained that citizenship is not holy; it is a piece of paper that gives certain privileges to people who wish to be a part of the country. Terrorists, he said, do not want to be citizens. He also stated that under international law revoking citizenship of individuals is allowed.
Interior Minister Yishai (Shas) expressed his frustration with the current law, which does not allow the Interior Minister to revoke citizenship, instead giving that power only to the Supreme Court. Yishai suggested we adapt the American law that permits the Interior Minister to revoke citizenship of traitors.
MK Horovitz (Meretz) said the lack of a constitution creates many issues. Horovitz said that under this law a serial killer of six would be allowed to retain his citizenship while a person who drives a terrorist would have his revoked. Horovitz said we should be very careful because this is a slippery slope.
The amendment passed 20-10 in its preliminary reading and was transferred to the House Committee, which will decide between sending the bill to the Interior Committee or the Justice Committee.
Consumer Protection Bill (Amendment – telephone hold time limit for human telephone answering)
MK Cabel (Labor) explained the new amendment, which would limit the time on hold to three minutes and would exempt consumers from paying the phone charges during that time.
Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Noked (Labor) explained that under the amendment if a person does not answer within three minutes the costumer would leave a message that would be returned within three hours. She praised the bill for improving service and expressed the government’s approval of the amendment.
The bill passed its preliminary reading 18-0 and was transferred to the Finance Committee.
Copyright Bill (Amendment – Usage of public body’s photographs)
MK Shitrit explained his amendment would allow everyone to use photos taken by a public body, such as an army spokesman, without invoking the penalties of the Copyright Bill. He explained further that every modern country, including America, allows free material. Under the current law no foreign magazine is allowed to use a photograph of any Minister without being subject to a copyright fine. He said it hurts Hasbara efforts and prevents blogs, like this one, from doing the same job Palestinian blogs are allowed to do. He praised Minister Eitan (Likud) for lobbying the bill and receiving government approval.
Minister Begin (Likud) thanked Shitrit for the idea and expressed the government’s desire to see this through in the committee discussions.
MK Baron (Kadima) asked what happens in certain “gray” situations.
Minister Begin said his position is that the Justice Minister will have his say on the matter in the committee and if they can solve the issue without legislation that would be the best answer for everybody.
The amendment was passed in its preliminary reading 21-0 and was transferred to the Science and Technology Committee.
Motion on the housing shortage in Israel
MK Cabel (Labor) bid MK Baron “Shabbat Shalom” as he got up to leave for the day. MK Baron replied: “Only in the Knesset do you say Shabbat Shalom on a Wednesday afternoon”. The MKs present in the room responded with a discussion on the matter for a few minutes, including an argument over who will cook the Chulent.
Cabel then talked about his parliamentary assistant Omar Chabri, who was looking for a new apartment with his wife, and the troubles he faced and how he was left empty handed. He claimed that only in Judea and Samaria are there four-room apartments that are under one million NIS. He lamented over the new rule that requires prospective home-owners to come up with a 40% down payment in order to be eligible for a mortgage. He asked “how can this be if we just joined the OECD?”
Deputy Finance Minister Cohen said that Housing Minister Attias is about to approve another round of 30,000 apartments. He blamed the 22% rise of housing prices over the last two years for the current situation. Deputy Speaker Miller (Y.B.) criticized Cohen’s response as not an adequate reason for the new 40% rule. Cohen said that young couples will probably be exempt from the new rule.
MK Yoel Chasson (Kadima) said that he also believed that young couples would be exempt from the new rule, and it is Cohen’s job to make sure of this.
The motion passed10-0 and was transferred to the Funds Committee.
Motion on the Acre air pollution as a result of a fire in the steel mill
MK Magadla (Labor) praised the Environment Minister for touring the area and assuring the people affected that everything would be okay.
MK Swed (Chadash) suggested moving some of the factories between Haifa and Acre so that the air pollution does not become a long term issue.
MK Walhaba (Kadima) asked the minister to conduct routine checks in the factories to make sure they are up to the standards as set by law in order to prevent such fires from occurring in the future.
MK Gafni explained that there are many houses near the factories and there should be drills on how to deal with tougher situations should they occur.
MK Orbach (J.H.) asked that something be done to lower pollution in the area and that we should increase awareness of the issue with the industrial community.
Environmental Minister Erdan (Likud) praised the 5 MKs on their motion. He expressed frustration on the pollution and said he wants to increase regulation in industry and raise awareness of the issue on a national level. He criticized the fact there are 300 traffic inspectors for parking meters and only 50 inspectors for environmental issues.
MK Chanin (Chadash) asked the minister to check what happens in these factories in the event of a major earthquake or some other national disaster.
MK Cabel said that the Knesset respects Erdan and wishes him well.
The motion passed 10-0 and was sent to the Interior and Environment Committee.
Motion on the construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem
MK Magada (Labor) expressed his opposition to the museum and went home.
MK Agbaria (Labor) questioned how one could build a museum of tolerance on top of a Muslim cemetery? He also asked how moving graves in Ashkelon creates a national controversy, but when it comes to Arab graves it doesn’t matter. He asked the Chareidi MKs to assist him in fighting this issue.
MK Ganem (Ra’am-Ta’al) slammed the court ruling that allowed the graves to be uprooted. He also questioned the need for another museum in Jerusalem.
Minister Begin explained this was a decision made ten years ago and the government must support the court’s ruling on the issue even if personal opinions might differ. He also criticized the newspapers that spread lies on the story. He agreed to allow further public debate on the subject.
The motion passed 9-0 and was sent to the Interior and Environment Committee.
Motion on preventing the entry of Professor Noam Chomsky PA
MK Shai (Kadima) explained that Chomsky is an investigative expert who is anti-war and an anti-Israel Jew. Dana Kaldaron, the clerk on site, decided on her own that he would not be allowed in, telling him “you are not liked in Israel”. Chomsky gave the talk he was supposed to give via conference call in Amman, Jordan. Every international outlet condemned us, and as a result we shot ourselves in the foot.
MK Bensimon said he was not angered by Israel’s handling of the Chomsky issue, but saddened. He asked what harm an 81-year-old man can possible do.
MK Zachalka questioned why Chomsky was denied entry this time, when every other time he was allowed to enter. He supported Chomsky’s speech from Jordan, where he charged the United States of enabling Israel’s murder of 1,400 Gazans during the 2008 war.
MK Tibi asked why Israel would deny a Jew entry to the West Bank? He also criticized Arutz Sheva for misquoting him and giving the impression that he knows where Shalit is being held captive.
MK Ketzeleh asked why Israel would allow Chomsky into the country when he is buddies with Nasralla. He suggested the next time Chomsky visits Lebanon he stay there and convert to Islam. He praised the government’s decision to not allow Chomsky‘s entry.
Minister Begin said he was saddened by MK Bensimon, who would defend an anti-semite over his own country. He equated Chomsky with the academic intellectuals that caused the anti-semitism which brought the Holocaust. He read out the Interior Minister’s response, which explained that, unlike with previous visits, Chomsky did not make the proper arrangements before his visit and expected he could just get in last minute through the Allenby Bridge Crossing. The minister explained that everyone west of the Jordan River are Palestinians under the British mandate rules, a majority of which are Jewish-Palestinian. He slammed Tibi for saying that all previous peace initiatives including Barak and Olmert’s did not meet the minimum standards of preconditions to a talk. Begin asked how 100% of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, along with a land swap, is not enough for the preconditions of a peace initiative.
MK Chanin (Chadash) asked why a professor needed to coordinate his visit with the Interior Ministry. He demanded a formal apology to Chomsky and the citizens. He also suggested the MKs read his insightful papers on Israel.
MK Agbaria started talking in Arabic and Ketzeleh demanded he speak in Hebrew. Agbaria spoke against the policy Israel has recently started of not allowing people who disagree with them into the country, like a Spanish diplomat.
MK Magadla asked Begin to compromise and to pursue peace.
MK Shitrit said this incident only strengthened Chomsky and the haters of Israel.
The motion passed 10-0 and was sent to the Interior and Environment Committee.
Motion on the release of Hamas leader Muhammad Abu Tir
MK Avraham-Balila (Kadima) stated that in June 2006, then-Interior Minister Baron revoked the citizenship of four eastern Jerusalem Arabs who were Hamas members, including Abu Tir. He was later arrested as a bargaining chip for Gilad Shalit. For some reason, in September Bibi opted to release 9 high level Hamas members, and now on Thursday Abu Tir was released too. Of course Shalit is still in captivity and Abu Tir is back in Jerusalem. She charged that out of the 60 bargaining chips we had a year and a half ago, only twelve remain.
Homeland Security Minister Aharonovitz explained that Abu Tir, like others, had their terms expire and that is why they were released. It is not the government’s official position to discuss the Shalit situation. Abu Tir was given 30 days to leave Jerusalem and if he doesn’t, he will return to jail.
Balila agreed to not bring the motion for a vote.
Motion to help Arab teachers from the north and center teach in the Negev
MK Tzartur asked to give financial incentives for the transportation costs of pioneer Arab teachers who travel to the Negev, as well as lowering the city taxes for those who choose to move and make the Negev their home. He complained their average wage of 6,000 NIS per month should be raised as well.
Minister Begin expressed his pride in the 1,400 teachers who travel from the north to the Negev every day. He expressed concerns over the Education ministry finding ways to budget MK Tzartur’s ideas, but said he would bring them up in conversation with Education Minister Sa’ar.
MK Bielski (Kadima) backed MK Tzartur’s motion.
The motion passed 5-0 and was sent to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee.
Motion on the cancelation of the road safety studies program
MK Bielski mentioned the statistic that more Israelis have died on the roads than in all of Israel’s wars. He also cited statistics that most of the accidents are caused by younger drivers. So far this year there has been a twenty percent rise in car accident deaths. Bielski said he understands the budget concerns, but we shouldn’t be cutting spending where we are saving lives.
Minister Begin said in the name of the Education Minister that the issue might get funding in a different ministry that has room to take on this important issue. He also expressed that no matter what we do as a government we cannot bring the mortality rate to zero. Begin also blamed the Government Regulation Committee of Road Safety for not sending the relevant funds as they had promised. Somehow he felt the program would be saved and there was no reason to worry.
The motion passed 4-0 and was sent to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee.
Motion on the danger of closing the dental school in Tel-Aviv
MK Shitrit spoke about what would happen to the 40 second-year students who would be left in a difficult situation because the school only enrolled twelve students this year and just six for next year. Shitrit asked for a government bailout. He warned if we don’t bail them out, they will leave Israel.
Minister Begin gave background information on the school’s history and the countless bailout plans it has received. He agreed to allow a committee to decide what to do this time.
MK Eldad (N.U.) felt that the Science Committee would be a good choice.
MK Michaeli (Shas) suggested the Education Committee.
The motion passed 7-0 and was sent to the House Committee in order to determine in which committee the matter will be discussed.
Motion on the extension of the term of office of the State Service Commissioner
MK Eldad questioned why the term of a person with that much power should be extended, especially when it has never been done before. Eldad named the respected people who are in key positions throughout the spectrum of the three branches of government. Eldad warned that this extension of four months is only the first extension. Eldad accused most public jobs of being political appointments and said the reason we failed in Lebanon was because we were busy promoting the wrong people who were related to other Generals.
Minister Neaman praised the three MKs who stayed for the important motion. He suggested Eldad should look at the light, not just the dark. Neaman said he agrees on term limits but he is in the minority. The minister said the government opposes the motion.
The motion to discuss this matter further was defeated 1-3.
Queries to the Deputy Health Minister and Minister of Welfare and Social Services
Deputy Health Minister Litzman (U.T.J.) answered MK Eldad’s query on why the Psychological Council has not met recently by stating they recently changed chairmen and are currently on recess but will be back shortly to choose a new body. Seven other queries were sent to the protocol because their MKs were not present.
Minister of Welfare and Social Services Herzog (Labor) answered MK Michaeli (Shas) on the query of his office’s support of outside bodies and associations. He discussed the 400 associations his ministry supports and what guidelines each association must follow in order to qualify, as well as the exceptions. He said all this information is available on the ministry’s website. MK Michaeli said he supported the Minister’s work with all the associations and hoped the budget will be raised for such projects.
Minister Herzog answered MK Ze’ev’s (Shas) query on the failure of detecting minors in danger of drugs. He said 151,000 children were discovered in 56 different cities that are part of the program, although we believe the number of children affected is probably closer to 330,000. He said he is working on locating those children and having them join the program. He expressed hope that newfound cooperation with the Education ministry will bear some fruit. Nine other queries were sent to the protocol because their MKs were not present.