Likud opposes its own lawmaker’s bill to widen tax on plastic bags

The Likud party voted Wednesday against a bill submitted by one of its own lawmakers, following pushback from allied ultra-Orthodox factions against the legislation that sought to charge Israeli consumers for plastic bags at all stores nationwide.

MK Gila Gamliel disobeyed party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu in bringing her bill for a vote, and he reportedly fumed at her when she refused to back down.

Coalition lawmakers rallied to support her legislation, but the bill still fell short of the majority needed after Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas accidentally voted against it, leading to a 22-22 tie.

Deputy Knesset Speaker Zvi Hauser of the New Hope party, who was leading the Knesset session, initially accepted Abbas’s request to have his vote changed to show he was in favor of the bill. But Likud protested and, at the advice of the Knesset legal adviser, the vote was left against.

Meanwhile, two similar bills brought by coalition lawmakers were advanced through their first reading in the Knesset and will move on to relevant committees to be prepared for final votes.

A law passed in 2016 requires customers to pay 10 agorot ($0.03) per plastic bag at supermarkets. The legislation also banned the distribution of certain types of polymer bags.

Under a bill submitted by MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano of the coalition’s Yesh Atid party and a related one from Meretz MK Michal Rozen, all businesses — not only supermarket chains — would be required to charge 10 agorot per bag.

Blue and White MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu had initially granted members in his Likud party freedom to vote their conscience on the bills, but backtracked on Wednesday amid threats from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers that they would start doing the same on legislation that might be important to Likud.

“Let it be clear, if Likud grants a free vote… United Torah Judaism members will see it as official permission to vote on every law that comes up in accordance with their practical considerations and not per Likud’s instructions,” UTJ MK Yaakov Eichler said Wednesday, arguing that the plastic bag legislation would disproportionately hurt the poor and families with lots of kids.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri passed along a similar message to Netanyahu, according to Hebrew media reports. Both Shas and UTJ are part of a Likud-led opposition bloc that also includes the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Gamliel’s decision to advance a bill similar to the coalition ones, after Netanyahu had made up his mind that Likud would be voting against the latter two, infuriated the party chairman.

A video from the Knesset plenum showed him fuming at Gamliel, a former environmental protection minister.

“This is unraveling the opposition. What we do need this law for?” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the Kan public broadcaster.

Environment Ministry figures show that since the tax was first introduced in 2016 there has been an 80 percent drop in the use of disposable plastic bags.

Likewise, grocery stores purchased 78% fewer bags in 2017 and 72% in 2020, according to the ministry figures.

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