(Aug. 26, 2009) On August 3, 2009, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) passed into law a government bill designed to facilitate the splitting of parliamentary groups during the term for which their members were initially elected. The amendment replaces section 59(1) of the Knesset Law, 5754-1994.
Knesset Members (MKs) are elected based on the proportional public vote for the candidate lists on which they are included. A candidate list must consist of at least one registered party. A list may also include individuals and movements that are not registered as parties. Once a candidate list is elected to the Knesset, it becomes a parliamentary group (also called a “faction”), even if the distinct parties in it continue to function individually on the outside.
The Knesset House Committee may, after the elections, recognize as a new parliamentary group any of the following: a parliamentary group that broke off from an existing parliamentary group; a parliamentary group made up of MKs who were originally part of other groups; or a parliamentary group created through the unification of two existing parliamentary groups. The law places limitations, however, on the recognition of new parliamentary groups. In accordance with Basic Law: the Knesset, an MK who leaves his faction without resigning from his Knesset position will not be included on a candidate list proposed by a party represented in the outgoing Knesset.
This rule, however, does not apply if the departure from the faction was done as part of a splitting of the initial parliamentary group by a minimum number of MKs as defined by law. Whereas previously the law required that number to be at least three MKs who form at least one-third of the number of members of the candidate list, the recent amendment reduced that number, lowering the bar to at least a third of the faction membership, or a group of seven members. In addition, the amendment shortens, from two years to merely three months, the period of ineligibility for governmental financing of ongoing political expenses of a group that secedes from its original faction.
The amendment, nicknamed the “Mofaz Law,” is widely believed to have been motivated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's desire to facilitate the departure of MK Shaul Mofaz from the opposition Kadima Party, in order to join and strengthen Netanyahu's coalition government. (Parliamentary Groups (Amendment) Law and Related Bills, 5769-2009, Knesset website, http://www.knesset.gov.il (last visited Aug. 20, 2009); Mazal Mualem, Knesset Passes Land Reform and Mofaz Law, HAARETZ.COM, Aug. 4, 2009, available at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1104900.html.)