Coalition in Crisis as Controversial Bill Approved

UTJ and Shas MKs lash out at the Likud MKs, when the controversial bill was raised for a vote in the Knesset, Wednesday. (Knesset Spokesperson)

The United Torah Judaism Party said Wednesday that it is ceasing cooperation with the Likud after the passage of a bill that “harms the holiness of the family” and constitutes “a blatant violation of the coalition agreement.”

The Knesset approved the bill in its preliminary reading by 42 for and 36 against, with a number of coalition members from Blue and White, as well as a Likud MK, voting in support, against the government’s position. Several Likud MKs didn’t enter the plenum for the vote. The bill still has to pass three readings and be approved by a Knesset committee before it becomes law.

Following an emergency UTJ faction meeting, the party announced that it would vote in favor of the coronavirus legislation which is set to come to the plenum on Wednesday afternoon, as a matter of pikuach nefesh, but said that otherwise it viewed itself as “freed from coalition obligations,” in an implicit threat to vote against coalition legislation.

The Shas Party also announced that it would not take part in votes at the Knesset plenum until further notice.

The UTJ statement said the party holds “the Likud faction and the prime minister who leads it as responsible for violating the coalition agreement and for the breach in the walls of Judaism by the bill — both through members who voted in favor and through those who voted with their feet and did not attend.”

A clause in UTJ’s coalition agreement with the Likud requires the status quo on religion and state to be maintained.

UTJ said that it will move in the coming week to propose bills touching on issues of religion and state on which it has so far held off, as they were waiting for dialogue between the coalition partners to reach an agreement. MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said he would raise the Override Clause for a vote in the Knesset next week, as well as a bill to outlaw chametz in public hospitals over Pesach.

Housing Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said Blue and White’s vote in favor of the bill was a blow to political cooperation with the party, but threatened the Likud as well, saying the ruling party must decide “if it knows how to manage the coalition or destroy itself politically.”

“It was expected from a party that claimed to be a ruling party to act responsibly and not on whims and revenge, certainly not on issues concerning the most sensitive issue of Judaism. This is a violation of the coalition’s mutual commitment in all its implications,” said MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher after the vote. “It is impossible for matters of Judaism to be held hostage in the struggles and mutual revenge of Blue and White and the Likud.”

A senior official in the Blue and White party told Channel 12 that the vote in the Knesset was “payback” to the Likud for their move to form a committee on judges’ conflicts of interests.

The Likud angered Blue and White earlier this month when it voted to form a Knesset oversight committee to investigate High Court Justices’ alleged conflicts of interest, despite strident objections from its coalition partner.

That bill failed to pass despite the Likud’s support.

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