Opposition boycotts controversial bill for connecting illegal Arab homes to electricity

Opposition parties boycott Knesset vote, after coalition prevents debate in contravention to Knesset legal advisor’s recommendation.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The Knesset’s opposition parties boycotted a controversial vote overnight Tuesday, in an act of protest against the coalition using a little known clause to force parties to vote on the bill without a chance to debate or filibuster.

The bill passed 61-0, with not a single opposition MK voting. The Arab Joint List party, which did not participate in the boycott, also did not vote in order to express their disapproval with Israel’s ruling coalition.

The bill, which became law after its third reading early Wednesday morning, permits the Interior Ministry the power to allow some 130,000 homes illegally built primarily in Arab communities across the country to be connected to Israel’s national electricity grid.

The success of the bill represented a major victory for coalition kingmaker MK Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist Ra’am party had touted connecting the non-permitted homes to Israel’s electric grid as one of his fundamental campaign promises.

But beyond the debate as to whether connecting the homes to electricity would further encourage illegal building or a necessary humanitarian step, the real controversy over the vote came when Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy acted in contravention to a recommendation given by the Knesset’s legal advisor.

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Attorney Sagit Afek, whose role is to serve as a neutral party advising the government on matters pertaining to votes, debates, and other legislative procedures, recommended that at least 94 hours be granted for debate on the bill.

But instead, the coalition used an obscure clause and little-known legislative procedure to force a “yes or no” vote on the bill.

“For the first time in the Knesset’s history, a Knesset committee has gone against the explicit position of the attorney general and has decided to fast-track in an unprecedented manner the Electricity Bill proposed by Ra’am,” the opposition parties said in a joint statement.

They said the move had been made to “silence the opposition’s criticism of Ra’am’s Electricity Law, which endorses the looting of state land by Arab construction of tens of thousands of illegal structures,” and added that coalition had “revoked the opposition’s right to reason and point out all the reservations it submitted.”