Midnight Vote on Controversial Bill Causes Uproar in the Knesset

The Knesset was in an uproar today, following the sudden and unexpected introduction and passage of the controversial archaeology bill at midnight last night. There was a demand by some Knesset members that the midnight vote be declared illegal and null and void.

The introduction and passage of the bill, which is intended to curb the right of archaeologists to excavate because of the possible presence of ancient Jewish graves, took place after the Knesset was about to end its session after eight hours of debate on several bills. Most MKs had left the building, believing that the agenda had been completed.

Suddenly, Deputy Speaker Meir Cohen-Avidov of Herut, who was chairing the session, announced that Menachem Porush of Agudat Israel would introduce his private member’s bill, “The Law to Protect Gravesites.” While Porush said he would forego a long speech to explain his proposal, Herut Whip Ronnie Milo rounded up party members still in the building and the draft proposal was accepted and sent to committee for debate.

DEFENSE AND ATTACK

But Liberal Party members of the government coalition, who oppose the bill, said its presentation at the time it was introduced was a “trap.” But Cohen-Avidov persisted that the bill was among “other private members bills” which are always on the agenda.

However, Menachem Savidor, the Liberal faction Speaker, said that Cohen-Avidov, as his deputy, knew full well that Porush’s bill had been placed on today’s agenda, not last night’s, and that he had no right to change the agenda by moving the bill up a day ahead.

Savidor added that if Cohen-Avidov’s reason for changing the agenda was that he did not know that it was on today’s agenda, “he is not telling the truth.” Cohen-Avidov immediately announced his resignation as Deputy Speaker, claiming he had been grossly insulted by Savidor.

Parliamentary and legal experts are divided on the Deputy Speaker’s right to change the agenda and the Speaker’s right to declare a previous vote null and void. Many experts feel the issue should be referred to the Supreme Court for a constitutional ruling.

Some observers feel that the midnight vote might have averted a coalition crisis with the Aguda Israel by satisfying the Aguda that an attempt had been made to have the controversial bill accepted.

But the vote has created a new coalition crisis with other factions, including Tami and Tehiya, which claim that the sudden vote was a cheap trick which brought no credit to the Knesset.

The Archaeological Council, which met today to discuss Porush’s bill, said its passage would be a black day for Israel. Prof. Yigael Yadin, Israel’s leading archaeologist, whose father’s grave was desecrated last week, apparently by ultra-religious elements, called the midnight vote a trick to ensure the passage of a bill which would hamstring archaeology. He said that if this trick works, “something must be wrong in the State of Israel.”

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