Knesset Winter Session to Discuss Budget, Biometrics, Broadcasting and Shabbos

The Knesset building (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Knesset building. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Students are back at school, vacations for office workers have ended – and the Knesset, too, is set to get back to work, now that the Yom Tov season is over. The Knesset’s winter session will commence on Monday afternoon, with introductory remarks by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Zionist Camp head Yitzchak Herzog, followed by the leaders of other parties.

On the agenda, as always, will be a number of crucial issues, with passage of the state budget among the main topics. The biennial budget must be passed by the end of the year if the government is to survive, and while the Prime Minister, with the inclusion earlier this year of Yisrael Beytenu in his coalition, would seem to have the needed votes – except that the crucial character of the vote could give coalition members some leverage on matters that they wish to push, such as the outpost arrangement law that would ensure the legal status of Amona and dozens of other outposts.

On Sunday, the government agreed to postpone until next week a discussion of the law, proposed by Jewish Home, with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan again reiterating that Jewish Home would either vote against or at least abstain on the state budget vote unless the government supported the outpost law. A similar, if less overt, process could be taking place regarding the new public broadcasting authority that Netanyahu is seeking to shut down before it becomes active on 1 January. Several ministers, including Naftali Bennett, have railed against the idea, and Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon is also said to be opposed to the authority’s closure.

Other major issues that are on the agenda include the continuation or cessation of the Biometric Database, which the government had planned to expand beyond its current test phase. Many privacy and human rights advocates have expressed opposition to the database, fearing that it may be hacked. Another major topic will be passage of a law that will remove tax exempt status from organizations that complain to the United Nations about Israeli “abuses of human rights.”

In addition, the government will discuss a new law that would change the status quo on religious issues, specifically the laws on what businesses can remain open on Shabbos. The law would prevent all commercial activity on Shabbos, requiring all stores to close regardless of local bylaws, but would allow all places of entertainment, restaurants, and other leisure facilities to operate freely. The law would also allow limited public transportation to be operated in specific areas.