"The State of Israel is too important for us to forfeit it to all kinds of laws that could harm systems that are vital to democracy—for us and for the generations to come," Kahlon explained his decision during a Kulanu party meeting.
Kahlon stressed that while his party is committed to coalition agreements, "on issues we disagree, each faction member will have the freedom to vote as their conscience dictates."
He added that "We won't make any decision without an organized party meeting, and if we need to, we will hold a vote in the party. No party member will have to vote against his conscience."
The contested legislation proposal, which was dubbed “the French Bill,” was spearheaded by MK David Amsalem (Likud) as a means to extricate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a web of corruption investigations at which he is the center.
Because it is an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, it requires a majority of 61 MKs to pass. Without the assured votes of the Kulanu party, the legislation is unlikely to pass.
The controversial bill has come under attack on numerous occasions since Amsalem submitted it for consideration. As recently as Monday, State Prosecutor Shay Nitzan slammed the notion that any senior official should be immune from scrutiny and investigation for alleged wrongdoing, describing it as “a total mistake."
Shaked: Bill must not be rushed
In an interview with Ynet on Sunday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) stressed that she does not intend to allow the bill to pass without a comprehensive and orderly procedure.
"I said several times that it makes sense not to investigate a prime minister about things that are, I would say, minor, like misdemeanors and infractions," Shaked said.
"This is something that is at the basis of the government in the State of Israel. This is not something that should be done with underhanded opportunism. It is not something that should be done quickly. It is something that requires thorough and in-depth discussion."
She stressed that she would "not allow the bill to pass without the coalition factions sitting and discussing it. Even in the coalition agreements, each faction has the ability to stop (an amendment to) a Basic Law at every stage of the legislation. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is the most important stage because at this stage the coalition's position is determined. Therefore, this bill will be discussed only after all the factions have consolidated their position. Basic Laws are the base of the regime in Israel and any such amendment should have a considerable amount of thought invested in it."
But Likud's Bitan rejected Shaked's assessment the legislation it was being rushed through the Knesset.
"This law reached a ministerial committee about five months ago. There, they asked for time to study the subject. Now we brought it at the beginning of the Knesset's winter session, and again she wants to study the subject, so the problem is not with us. With all due respect to Shaked, she needs to stop playing games of public opinion, and should not set conditions. We are not prepared for Bayit Yehudi to lord over the Likud," he said.
Meanwhile, Shaked also insisted the legislation will not apply to existing investigations against Netanyahu.
"No one in the coalition will allow this bill to apply to existing investigations. That is really unacceptable," stressed Shaked.
Bitan concurred, saying, "This law does not apply to the prime minister in the ongoing investigations ... The opposition stems from Netanyahu, but the bill itself will apply to all future prime ministers."
Shaked dismissed qualms about the timing of the legislation, saying "Unfortunately, all the prime ministers have been involved in investigations over the last 20 years, and this is also a problem. Therefore, it is not that there is a more appropriate or less appropriate time. You have to look at the essence of this law, whether it is correct in the long term."
Lapid: Rename bill to 'Netanyahu Bill'
Addressing the bill before the plenum, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid denounced the proposed bill, insisting that it should be renamed from the French Bill to the “Benjamin Netanyahu Bill.”
Lapid sought to emphasize that the main focus of the coalition's talks was not centered on people’s everyday lives, but rather on protecting Netanyahu.
“What is the prime minister advancing and what is his coalition arguing about? The minimum wage? Education? Of course not. The only thing that is interests them is to quickly pass the bill so the prime minister can’t be investigated,” Lapid said.
“There is nothing French about this bill. Let’s call it by its real name, 'The Benjamin Netanyahu Bill,' which is intended to stop his investigations.”
After slighting the prime minister, Lapid set out the aims of his own party which he said affected the lives of regular citizens, beginning with the reinstatement of the Conscription Law.
“We will implement again the Conscription Law,” he promised. I want to see who this government is for: IDF soldiers or political blackmail. We will submit (Menachem) Begin’s version of the Nationality Bill. The real Nationality Bill without an attempt to fan the flames between Israeli citizens.”
Finally, the Yesh Atid leader pledged he would seek to impose a two-term limit on any prime minister. “Anyone who is disappointed with Netanyahu sees how important it is to submit this bill. Four terms is too much. It produces disasters such as the submarine affair which harms the holy of holies and harms the state’s security. There will be no hiding from investigating Netanyahu in this affair.”