Members of Knesset who opposed the Governance Bill chose an unusual way to express their anger on Wednesday night. Instead of continuing the passionate debate over the bill, they chose to use their three minutes on the Knesset podium to protest with silence.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) explained the protest. “This law is intended to silence the Arab parties,” she accused. Therefore, she said, MKs will remain silent.
The Governance Bill would make several changes to laws relating to the establishment and ousting of coalition governments. It would also increase the vote threshold for the Knesset from two percent of the national vote to four percent.
The change in the threshold could impact the Knesset’s smaller factions, which include all three majority-Arab factions. The Balad, Ra’am Ta’al and Hadash parties all have under five representatives in Knesset.
MKs Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and Hanin Zoabi (Balad) stayed silent on the Knesset podium as well. Zahalka taped his mouth shut as well, prompting MK Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid) to joke, “Careful with the mustache.”
“Listen to my silence very carefully,” MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) told his fellow MKs before launching into his three minutes on the podium.
MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am Ta'al) turned his back on the Knesset assembly during his three minutes of silence.
MK Zahava Galon (Meretz) remained silent as well. “Meretz is silent in a display of solidarity with the Arab parties that would be likely to find themselves outside of Parliament,” she declared.
Meretz, too, would not have made it into Knesset in the 2009 elections under the new guidelines. At the time, the party entered Knesset with just three seats; it grew to six seats in the last elections.
Several other Meretz members stayed silent, as well. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) was silent for one minute, then explained himself.
“I stood silent in memory of the democracy that they are trying to destroy. I am not a member of Balad, but I have no problem with the expression of that voice… This is a small-minded, pathetic law,” he accused.
Several hareidi-religious MKs remained silent as well, among them MK Moshe Gafni and MK Uri Maklev, both members of Yahadut Hatorah (Gimmel).
MK Yisrael Eichler (Yahadut Hatorah) accused, “This is a state that wages war on its own citizens, against the hareidi-religious, too. This is an anti-Jewish, anti-democratic government.”
Supporters of the Governance Bill say it will help stabilize Israel’s system of government by making the government less vulnerable to demands from small fringe parties, and to parties that make financial demands in exchange for their votes in favor of the national budget.
Some supporters, among them MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud), have argued that reducing the number of parties in Knesset to a handful of factions with a large base of support would boost the Knesset’s image and allow for more serious debate.