A law that would have provided a “balance” between the release of Arab terrorist prisoners and Jewish prisoners was soundly defeated in the Knesset on its first reading Wednesday. Fifty three MKs voted against, while only nine voted in favor – almost all of them from Shas, which proposed the law. Only one coalition MK – Moshe Feiglin – voted in favor, while none of the Bayit Yehudi's 12 MKs voted for the bill.
The idea for a “balance bill” such as the one that was defeated Wednesday has been around for a long time, first proposed by Shas and Likud MKs when Ariel Sharon was still Prime Minister. The law states that if Arab terrorist prisoners are released as part of an exchange deal, such as the one that saw over 1,000 terrorists go free in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, or if the government releases terrorists as a “gesture” to the Palestinian Authority, the Prisons Service would be required to release an equal number of Jewish prisoners who were in prison for “nationalistic” or other political “crimes.”
The law would correct an injustice that has been ongoing for decades, supporters said – that Arab terrorists, even those who murdered Jews, are given a “get out of jail free” card, while Jewish prisoners, whose only crime often was protesting an injustice, are stuck in prison for years.
Speaking yesterday, Shas MK David Azoulai urged Knesset members to support the bill. Despite the government's lack of support for the bill, Azoulai said that he had been urged by many coalition MKs – such as those from Bayit Yehudi – to introduce the bill in the Knesset. During the vote, however, most of the Bayit Yehudi MKs were out of the room – and those who were present, specifically Orit Struk and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, abstained. Ariel had been a strong supporter of the law when it was introduced in the previous Knesset (and also defeated), as was coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who voted against.
Legal rights group Honenu slammed the government for failing to support the law, especially considering the fact that most Likud MKs have supported a version of it in the past. “It is sad that in this government, under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu, the government would be opposed to such a law. We realize that many MKs support it but voted against because of partisan politics” - not wishing to give Shas a victory - “but this is a matter beyond politics, going to the essence of fairness and justice.”
With that, the group said, it was hopeful that the law would eventually be passed. “We may have lost the battle, but not the war. We will continue to work until it is passed.”