The Social Guard organization publishes its Social Index for the most recent summer and winter sessions of the Knesset. Itzik Shmuli leads; Michael Oren, Bezalel Smotrich and Miki Zohar at the bottom; Yael German and Shuli Moalem shoot up in ranking; Yisrael Beitenu improves; Merav Ben Ari continues to lead coalition members on the Social Index and proves that coalition discipline can be evaded
The Social Guard organization publishes its Social Index, which summarizes the Knesset’s social record for the past year (the 2017 summer session and the 2017 winter session). “The Knesset has gone through a wave of legislation owhich promotes narrow political and personal interests of coalition members at the expense of public interest, and undermines the basic foundations of democratic rule: transparency, good governance, and the most important value of all, equality before the law,” says Social Guard CEO Yossi Sarfaty. “The Social Index reveals that many opposition MKs, including senior ones, didn’t really make an effort to block this wave of legislation and have allowed the government to run the Knesset as it wishes, and it can be said that they have played a part in the deterioration.”
“In the past few years there has been strict coalition discipline in the Knesset,” says the Social Guard’s research coordinator, Dana Ganel, “The government compels coalition Knesset Members to vote uniformly, according to the decisions of the ministerial committee on legislation. Ratification of the laws in the Knesset can thus become superfluous. In spite of this, the Social Index reveals that several brave MKs from the coalition still manage to evade coalition discipline and vote according to their conscience. These MKs abstain from voting on certain social legislation that the government is attempting to block, and thereby they make it more difficult for the government to undermine social legislation and trample on the Knesset.”
The Index is led for the fourth time (not consecutively), by MK Itzik Shmuli. His Zionist Union colleague, Stav Shafir who was in first place on the previous Social Index dropped to 5th place. Shmuli is followed by Nachman Shai (The Zionist Union), Dov Khenin (Joint List), and Yael German (Yesh Atid) who shot up from 18th place in the previous Index. Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, the only current MK running in the Meretz primaries scheduled for Thursday, dropped from 6th place in the previous Index, to 22nd place, the lowest ranking of any Meretz MK on the present Index. Zandberg did not participate in many of the votes over social legislation initiated by opposition members, and thus, she effectivly helped block those laws. Zandberg, for example, did not bother to participate in the vote over proposed legislation to increase subsistence allowances for long-term care patients, or to confiscate the profits made by pimps.
MK Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party and a leading candidate for prime minister was ranked 49th – the lowest rank on the present Index out of all opposition members – because of his very poor participation in voting. For example, Lapid did not show up to vote over the law increasing allowances to Holocaust survivors, or to the vote over the law which allows ministers to appoint government advisors without a tender process.
Former leaders of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog and Amir Peretz, also ranked relatively low for opposition members: 43 and 48, respectively. Similarly, MKs Ahmad Tibi, Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List were ranked in the 47th – 49th places. Peretz, for example, did not participate in the vote to increase old-age pensions; Zoabi did not participate in the vote over proposed legislation to supervise daycare centers. MK Orly Levi-Abekasis, who resigned from Yisrael Beitenu in 2016 and announced last week that she was founding a new social party, was ranked in 40th place, one of the lowest for opposition MKs. Abekasis did not show up for votes over legislation seeking to attach old-age pensions to the minimum wage, or the proposed law allowing public transportation on the Sabbath.
Ministers hardly present at the Knesset:
“Netanyahu and Shaked run the Knesset by remote control.”
At the bottom of the Social Index are MK Michael Oren of Kulanu, Eli Ben Dahan, Bezalel Smotrich and Mordhay Yogev of the the Jewish Home party, and Yakov Asher of United Torah Judaism. These MKs did, in fact, make sure to be present for votes where the coalition enlisted a majority to block social legislation, in order to vote against these legislative proposals. Michael Oren, for example, made sure to vote against increasing disability benefits for people hospitalized in long-term care homes, a move opposed by the government. On the other hand, he did not show for a vote on amending regulations for redeployment of debts by the Collection Authority. Smotrich voted against proposed legislation to provide the self-employed with unemployment benefits and old-age pensions.
Also ranked close to the bottom of the Index are MKs Miki Zohar and Benny Begin of the Likud and Israel Eichler and Uri Maklev of Torah Judaism. Zohar, who served until recently as chair of the Knesset committee on Social Justice, made sure to vote for a proposed law that allowed ministers to personally appoint the legal counselors for their ministries and, on the other hand, did not attend the vote over exemption from participation in long-term care hospitalization, even though this law was supported by the government. Gafni and Maklev even voted against social legislation that they themselves were involved in preparing, such as the proposed legislation to support needy Holocaust survivors even when they receive modest benefits from abroad, or the proposal defining the rights and obligations of municipal council members.
MK Merav Ben Ari, of Kulanu, was ranked the highest among all coalition members on the Social Index for the third time in row, leading her colleagues by a large margin. Ben Ari was systematically absent from votes on social legislation that the government attempted to block, including the proposed legislation that would allow the partners of a sick child’s parents who are not the child’s parents, to be absent from work in order to care for the child, or the proposal to enact transparency in the funding of educational institutions. Her fellow party members, Tali Ploskov and Akram Hasoon also ranked higher than other coalition members thanks to similar tactics, as did MK Hamad Amar of Yisrael Beitenu. Amar was absent, for example, from voting on the proposed legislation on support for Holocaust survivors receiving benefits from abroad, so as not to help the government in blocking it.
Ranked immediately after Amar is the greatest surprise on the Social Index, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party, who was ranked 111th in the previous ranking, and rose to fifth place among coalition members (55th overall). Moalem was absent, for example, from the vote on confiscation of pimps’ profits, so as not to assist in its rejection. Former coalition chairperson David Bitan was ranked in 11th place among coalition members (third within the Likud party), while his successor David Amsalem was ranked 14th in the coalition and 6th within the Likud.
Meretz leads in the average ranking of political parties on the Social Index, as it did in the previous index and most of the earlier ones. It is followed by the Zionist Union. The party ranked the lowest on average is Torah Judaism, which in the past had been one of the most ‘social’ parties in the coalition. Kulanu is the most social political party in the coalition (in spite of Michael Oren’s low ranking) followed by Yisrael Beitenu, which had in the past ranked low on the Index.
The present Social Index does not include Members of Knesset who have not been in office for most the year, or government ministers, who generally do not attend many votes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was absent from 95% of the votes on legislation included in the calculation of the Social Index. He is followed on the “ranking of absent ministers” by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who were both absent from 90% of the votes that where included in the Index.
“Shaked runs the ministerial committee on legislation, which to a great extent determines the legislative agenda of the Knesset, but she hardly ever attends the votes,” says the Social Guards’ Knesset coordinator, Reut Berg, “Netanyahu and Shaked run the Knesset by remote control, as if the MKs were their puppets. Democracy is deteriorating and the lethargic conduct of the Knesset plays a role in that.”
The Social Index is based on an algorithm which ranks MKs according to their voting record in the Knesset plenum on social-economic legislative proposals. The MKs’ ranking is higher the more they vote in favor of social legislation and against anti-social legislation, and drops the more they vote against social legislation and in favor of anti-social laws. The ranking is calculated by the Social Guard’s volunteer programmers, using the open source code “Open Knesset” developed by the “Workshop for Public Knowledge.”