Wednesday’s session of less than seven hours was jam packed with 14 bills discussed. Amir Peretz’s “baby”, the Minimum Wage Bill, was rejected. MK Tivayev’s Official Language of the State of Israel Bill that would declare Hebrew as the official language met government opposition. Towards the end of the session Deputy Speaker Tibi had a personality complex during one of the motions. The Knesset passed only five of the 14 bills, defeating six of them, while three were turned into motions in order to not have them defeated.

Short Summary on Non-Bills

  • The session opened with urgent queries for the Interior and Education Ministers, as well as the Deputy Finance and Industry and Trade Ministers.
  • Justice Minister Neaman and Culture Minister Livnat (Likud) answered queries in the middle of the session.
  • The Knesset discussed10 motions, passing five of them, one of which was split into two motions. The motions were passed 12-0 and 13-0 (split), 7-1, 5-0, 4-1 and 4-0. The Knesset defeated one of the motions 1-4. and the other four were not brought up for a vote.
  • Speaker Rivlin gave a warm address to the President of El-Salvador.

Two Amendments on the National Insurance Bill

MK Chaim Katz (Likud) explained that his amendment would have the state cover 70% of insurance and social security dues widows and widowers.

Welfare Minister Hertzog (Labor) praised the bill and expressed the government support.

MK Azulai (Shas), who sponsored a virtually identical bill, thanked the minister for supporting his amendment along with MK Katz’s amendment.

The bills by Katz and Azulai were both passed in their preliminary readings by votes of 25-0 and 26-0, respectively, and were sent to the Labor Welfare and Health Committee.

Amendment on the Penal Code Bill

MK Levi-Abukasis (Y.B.) explained her amendment would raise the age under which a child in jail would need an observer to children aged 16 and under, from the current law of 14 and under. She expressed hope that in the future she would pass a law to raise the observer status to apply to all minors under 18.

Justice Minister Neaman expressed government support for raising the age to 16 but warned that the government would oppose a bill that would raise the age to 18.

The bill passed its preliminary reading 45-0 and was sent to the Law Committee.

Two Amendments on the Minimum Wage Bill

MK Peretz (Labor) called his bill one of the most important bills of all time. He explained that his amendment would act as a temporary provision that would gradually raise the minimum wage to 4,600 shekel. He attacked the treasury for not supporting a bill that can make a big difference for poor people. He called Shtinetz a coward for giving in to the rich. Peretz said he’d rather be a populist than a slave of rich interest groups. He asked why Barak felt the Labor party had to be a part of a Netanyahu government. He called on Labor Ministers Braverman and Hertzog to not be afraid and to vote for the bill. He told them that if Bibi fires them for standing up for the poor they should send him a bouquet of flowers for helping them become the front runners to replace Barak as Labor’s head. Peretz called on the MKs to vote for their ideology and not to be afraid of losing their precious coalition jobs.

MK Shitrit (Kadima) explained that his similar amendment would raise the minimum wage level to higher number than MK Peretz’s proposal. He said the problem of negative income tax destroys families and cited a study which proved his point. Shitrit charged that full time salaried workers who earn the minimum wage live under the poverty line. He warned that when people make more money living off of welfare services than working the consequence is an impending financial disaster. MK Vaknin (Shas) got into a screaming match with Shitrit that lasted a few minutes. Shitrit attacked Vaknin and Shas for saying they represent the poor while they vote against raising the minimum wage. He asked how Israel could join the OECD when people who have full-time jobs are poor and people who live off welfare are rich. He explained his amendment would raise the minimum wage to 50% of the average Israeli salary, and he explained that he passed a similar bill when he was Finance Minister. His amendment would also call to hire inspectors to ensure that employers complied with the mandatory minimum wage and did not try to cheat employees by paying them less.

Finance Minister Shtinetz charged that Peretz and Shitrit did not propose to raise the minimum wage when they were ministers and the world economy was flourishing. He charged them both of being opportunists who find it very easy to ask the government to raise the minimum wage when they are in the opposition and the world is in the middle of a financial crisis. Shtinetz said that if either of them were finance minister they would vote against the measure. He warned that if the bill was passed companies would close down and unemployment would rise. He explained that in the middle of a financial crisis the businesses can’t survive a bill that would raise the minimum wage. He quoted Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher who said that raising the minimum wage would raise unemployment significantly. He quoted the OECD report on Israel that stated the minimum wage in Israel is overwhelmingly high. The finance minister applauded Peretz for using this bill as a way to improve his relations with the press and for going through the motions of having his bill defeated. He warned that voting for this bill is a vote for unemployment and budget cuts in education and welfare. Shtinetz defended the concept of negative income tax that former Finance Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) created. He called the bills irresponsible and expressed the government’s opposition to the bills, calling on the coalition MKs to oppose it. He warned that this bill would raise the unemployment to 10% like the United States.

MK Peretz rebutted that Shtinetz is no expert of finance. He called for a vote by secret ballot and promised that if he lost he would not bring up the bill for a vote for two years.

MK Shitrit rebutted by reading out Shtinetz’s record of voting for raising the minimum wage in the past. He blasted Minister Hertzog and told him that he should be ashamed of himself for saying he is defending the weak and poor. The two got into a screaming match for a minute or so and then Shtinetz joined. Shitrit charged that a business or factory that can’t pay their workers a higher minimum wage should not be open for business.

The bills were defeated 39-59 and 34-57 respectively. Chaim Katz of the Likud voted for both of the bills, against the government decision.

Two Amendments on the Environmental Protection Bill

MK Horovitz (Meretz) explained that his amendment would allow the intelligent use of natural resources, specifically by reusing water through a Greywater system.

MK Chanin (Chadash), who sponsored an almost identical bill, said he was happy to see the government support a bill that will help Israel save water.

Environmental Minister Erdan (Likud) expressed government support for the brilliant bill that matches his ministry’s policy and called on everyone to vote in favor.

The bills by Horovitz and Chanin passed their preliminary readings 23-0 and 24-0 respectively and were both sent to the Interior and Environment Committee.

Amendment on the Rabbinical Courts Bill

MK Mula (Kadima) explained that his amendment would prohibit the rabbinical courts from cancelling a citizen’s conversion to Judaism. He stressed that these matters are particularly important in issues of marriage and divorce and the current situation causes many problems. He asked how someone could live as a Jew and then have their conversion overturned at a later date. He got into a screaming match with MK Rotem (Y.B.) when he charged that Rotem’s party was giving in to the chareidim.

Justice Minister Neaman said that the matter is complicated and delicate. He explained that the government asked to have a three month period to go over the law and figure out a way to either support it or submit a bill of their own. Mula refused to play ball and for that reason the government was asking the coalition to oppose the bill.

MK Zoaretz (Kadima) asked that the coalition reconsider and vote for the bill.

The bill was defeated 21-34.

Amendment on the Proposed Traffic Ordinance

MK Shitrit explained that his amendment would require that stability systems be installed on all vehicles that weigh over four tons. He explained that the bill would reduce traffic accidents by keeping drivers alert and awake and would take control of a vehicle when its driver lost control. Shitrit read out a letter written to the minister by the citizen who came up with the idea for the bill. He asked the government to support the bill and pledged to work alongside the minister to advance the bill or to drop it if so requested.

Transportation Minister Katz (Likud) explained that a similar law that demands the installation of such devices by January 1st 2012 was already passed. Katz explained that there was no reason to pass a law to enforce the issue earlier and expressed the government’s opposition to the bill.

MK Shitrit claimed he was talking about a more advanced type of device and said that waiting another year and a half to enforce the previous device will cost pointless deaths. He quoted: One who saves the life of one, it is like he saved the whole world.

The bill was defeated 20-42.

Amendment on the Land Leasing Bill

MK Mula explained his amendment would be a temporary provision that would extend the lease period of certain Israeli lands and delay their transfer to foreign western development interests. Mula said he rejected the idea of luxury housing for rich people.

Minister Neaman said that this bill would hurt the current reform of the Israeli Land Authority and therefore the government was opposing it.

The bill was defeated 14-36.

Amendment on the Broadcasting Authority Bill

MK Shai (Kadima) explained that his amendment would change the structure of public broadcasting. The Kadima MKs objected to Edelstein being the minister who would respond in the name of the government, and Deputy Speaker Magadla called a few of the MKs to order.

Hasbara and Diaspora Minister Edelstein (Likud) warned that those who are in favor of public broadcasting should oppose this bill and wait for a reform. He expressed the government’s opposition to the bill.

MK Shai said that he believes that the government will adopt this bill and that Edelstein will vote in favor of it in six months after opposing it today. He criticized the government’s decision of budgeting for entertainment such as the Eurovision and not for journalism and more political shows. He called on the coalition MKs who co-sponsored the bill with him to vote in favor of their proposal.

The bill was defeated 24-42.

Motion/Amendment on the Retirement Age Bill

MK Solodkin (Kadima) explained that her amendment would lower the retirement age for employees of physically grinding jobs that harm their health. She explained that the current retirement age is standard and certain jobs should enjoy an earlier retirement age. Solodkin proposed that the retirement age for these jobs would be lowered to 60 years old. She thanked MK Tibayev for co-sponsoring the bill with her. She blasted Workers Union head Ofer Ianie for objecting to the bill instead of supporting workers’ rights.

Deputy Finance Minister Cohen (Shas) explained the government was opposed to the bill because of the difficulty in defining what is grinding work. He explained that too many jobs might be included and there would not be enough in the budget to pay the retirement benefits, which could lead to an economic collapse. He suggested changing the bill into a motion that could be discussed in a committee.

MK Solodkin agreed.

The motion passed 23-0 and was sent to the Funds Committee.

The Official Language of the State of Israel Bill/Motion

MK Robert Tivayev (Kadima) explained his amendment would name Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel. He said he was surprised that such a law had never been passed. Tivayev told a story about how he was introduced to Hebrew in the U.S.S.R. by a Rabbi in synagogue who explained that Hebrew was the language of the Jewish people. He called on the Knesset to make this historic declaration. Tivayev noted that Israel is one of the few countries that don’t have an official language. Tivayev asked how a right-wing government could vote against such an important bill.

Religion Minister Margi (Shas) said that the government objected to declaring Hebrew as the official language. Margi said the government also objected to the secondary languages of Arabic, English and Russian mentioned in the bill. Margi said that it was a problematic bill and suggested turning the bill into a motion to have a compelling discussion in a committee.

MK Tivayev agreed.

The motion passed 26-0 and was sent to the Justice Committee.

Motion/Amendment on the Sick Days Payment Bill

MK Agbariah (Chadash) explained his amendment would allow absence from work due to an immediate relative’s disease. He criticized the current law that states that one must use vacation days to be with a dying family member and cannot even use one’s own sick days for this purpose.

Deputy Speaker Magadla mistakenly called up Deputy Minister Noked as the Deputy Infrastructure Minister, and Infrastructure Minister Landau (Y.B.) said he would be happy to have Noked work as a deputy for him as well.

Industry and Trade Deputy Minister Noked (Labor) explained that to allow someone to exercise eight days’ worth of sick days on a relative’s sickness is too much. Noked explained that multiple people could invoke this clause for the same sick person which would cause an unfair strain on the economy. She suggested turning the bill into a motion and having a discussion in a committee.

The motion passed 6-0, or 9-0 if you count the MKs who didn’t vote but who Deputy Speaker Magadla added. The motion was sent to the Health Committee.

MK Ahmed Tibi’s Multiple Personalities

Deputy Speaker Tibi announced that the next speaker would be MK Tibi. Because no other Deputy Speaker was in the building MK Tibi asked Deputy Speaker Tibi if he could have special permission to give his speech from the Speaker’s chair. Deputy Speaker Tibi announced that he authorized MK Tibi’s request and asked that the Knesset pretend that MK Tibi’s request did not come from the Speaker’s chair. Justice Minister Neaman asked Deputy Speaker Tibi if this would cause a conflict of interest. Deputy Speaker Tibi agreed it would, he said he had considered delaying the motion until another deputy speaker arrived, but because it was a special day, the world cup semifinal, he decided against it. MK Shai asked Deputy Speaker Tibi what would happen if MK Tibi caused a disruption. Deputy Speaker Tibi responded that if MK Tibi caused a disturbance that he would call MK Tibi to order and remove him from the plenum. MK Tibi started his speech by thanking the Deputy Speaker. At the end of his speech Deputy Speaker Tibi thanked MK Tibi for not going over his time limit.