Legislation allowing 90 MKs to vote to suspend one of their colleagues received coalition party leaders' approval on principal Monday.
The move came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recommended the policy in response to three MKs from Balad, one of the parties making up the Joint (Arab) List, meeting with families of terrorists, whose bodies are being held by the Police because they won't meet the condition of an understated funeral, last week. The MKs also stood in a moment of silence for Palestinian "martyrs." The meeting was condemned by members of all the Knesset's factions except the Joint List.
Netanyahu praised the coalition for approving the idea.
"We have to keep limits and basic rules of behavior so that democracy will not turn into a suicide pact," he said at a Likud faction meeting, referring to a phrase written in a legal dissent by American Associate Justice Robert Jackson in 1949, saying the right to incite to a riot does not fall under freedom of speech.
Democracy "must protect itself and defend itself," the prime minister added.
Later, in the plenum, Netanyahu said: "I'm trying to imagine what would happen if a UK MP stood in a moment of silence for Jihadi John."
The prime minister said he is for Israeli Arabs integrating in Israeli society and politics, and because of that, he does not accept MKs supporting those who murder Israelis.
"There's a limit. There's something called national pride," he stated.
A bill has not yet been submitted, but the coalition party leaders reviewed a draft that states that an MK who "is not worthy of serving because of behavior that does not suit his status as an MK" can be suspended.
According to the draft, at least 61 lawmakers would have to complain to the Knesset House Committee. The petition can move forward if three-fourths of the committee votes in its favor, and the panel would determine the length of the suspension.
The suspension would then move to the plenum, where it would have to be approved by three-fourths of the Knesset, meaning 90 MKs, in a special meeting that would only be about the suspension, called with 10 days' notice.
The MK in question would be given the opportunity to defend him or herself before the House Committee, and can be represented by someone else, but not another legislator.
While the lawmaker is suspended, he or she will be replaced by the next person on the faction's list for the Knesset. That person will stop being an MK when the suspended legislator returns.
The bill would need a 61-MK majority to become law, because it would be an amendment to Basic Law: Knesset, and it would likely be challenged in the Supreme Court, which in recent years overturned all Central Election Committee efforts to ban any party or MK, including Balad.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh came out against the proposal, calling it undemocratic and saying that only "the people" can vote its representatives into or out of the Knesset.
Odeh "condemned the wild incitement and delegitimization of the Arab population and its leaders," calling the Balad MKs' meeting "a humanitarian act."
"We support the Palestinian people's battle against the occupation and for a state, and we are against harm to innocent people," he said. "Anyone who fears for democracy must fight with us for democracy...and real peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
High-Follow Up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel chairman Muhammad Barakei, a former MK, called the proposal a plot to bring "racial purity" to the Knesset.
Barakei said he and the Joint List are for a "political struggle" as opposed to a violent one, but hinted that Israeli Arabs may consider boycotting the political process, saying: "If someone wants it, we may consider contributing to that [racial] purity."
MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List), one of the three who visited families, said the criticism of the meeting was disingenuous, because it was meant only to help the families get the bodies back. As proof of his intentions, Zahalka said MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) went immediately after the meeting to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan with a chart detailing the conditions the families would be willing to meet.
"Zoabi, [MK Bassel Ghattas (Joint List)] and I wrote a letter to Netanyahu asking him to take back the incitement against us. You know, it's hard to catch him telling the truth," Zahalka said. "Instead of calming, the prime minister is inciting. We got threatening letters because of what he said."
As for the moment of silence, Zahalka said it is a Palestinian tradition to stand and read a passage from the Koran called Sura al-Fatiha in memory of all fallen Palestinians. He did not, however, explain why the Balad Facebook page referred specifically to a terrorist who killed three Israelis in October as a shaheed (martyr).
Other parties also came out against the bill, calling it undemocratic.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said: "The public's patience has run out. The MKs from Balad constantly provoke against the State of Israel and for terror...They crossed a redline."
However, he added, the Knesset and Attorney-General have tools to deal with the matter, calling the proposal a slippery slope.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On also came out against the Balad MKs' "provocative and damaging act," but said the idea of a law to suspend MKs is "meant to exclude 20 percent of the country's citizens."
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, however, came out in favor of the bill, saying that his faction will vote for it even though the coalition voted down a similar bill from his party last year.
Still, Liberman criticized Netanyahu, saying he gets a score of "zero on fighting terrorism. He is strong on talk and a zero on action."
According to Liberman, Netanyahu's complaint to the Knesset Ethics Committee about the Balad MKs is "a smokescreen," adding: "Whoever heard of a prime minister complaining to the Ethics Committee? He doesn't need a committee; he has to act."
Earlier Monday, the Knesset House Committee recommended that Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit start a criminal investigation of the MKs and that the Knesset Ethics Committee give the Balad lawmakers the maximum punishment of a six-month suspension from all activity but voting and a docked salary.
Mandelblit's office said Sunday that he instructed the police to collect information relating to the Balad MKs recent visit to the families of Palestinian terrorists, and no other action will be taken until receives initial information from police.
Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri told the House Committee that Mandelblit will make a decision on the matter in the coming days.
House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud) insisted that the Balad MKs committed the crime of incitement, which is what fuels the current wave of terrorism.
Bitan also called Joint List MKs, who boycotted the meeting, "cowards who won't face us."
Palestinian Media Watch Itamar Marcus showed the committee video of a terrorist's father praising the Balad MKs and his "warm and productive" meeting with them.
"The Palestinian Authority and some MKs are unwilling to define acts of terror as terrorism," Marcus said.
Micah Avni, the son of Richard Lakin, who was killed by one of the terrorists whose families met with the Balad MKs, spoke to the committee about the need to fight incitement.
"The Arab street is subjected to continuing incitement from MKs and the Palestinian Authority and social media," Avni said. "Whoever recognizes a killer of Israeli citizens as a shaheed and says they will go to heaven is surely calling for people to kill more."
Avni said that while the laws against incitement are clear, they are not properly enforced.
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said "supporting terrorism in any way is unacceptable and those who do it should be out of the Knesset."
However, she suggested that rather than pass a law to suspend MKs, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon should declare Balad an illegal organization, and then they would not be able to run.
Svetlova also pointed out that Basic Law: Knesset bans anyone who rejects Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or incites to terrorism, among other reasons, may not run for seats in the legislature.
MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said that "this shame to the Knesset could have been avoided if the Supreme Court ruled differently" on Central Election Committee decisions to bar Balad or Zoabi from running.
"When I read article 7a of Basic Law: Knesset, it's clear," that they should not have been able to run, he added.
MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) called to strengthen the Central Elections Committee, so that the Supreme Court will have to honor its decisions.
However, Eichler opposed the proposal to suspend MKs, saying that it will be used against Jews, because "the Arabs have the Supreme Court [to defend them] but Jews have no one."
In light of the Joint List backing "this disgusting move of supporting terrorists," Likud MK Yoav Kisch called for the NIS 15b. the government pledged to strengthen Arab municipalities go straight to local authorities without any involvement by Arab MKs.
MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) lamented the Balad MKs' destructive impact on Jewish-Arab coexistence.
"An inciting minority should not derail it," he said. "Most Israeli Arabs oppose them."
Similarly, MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin spoke of "many Arabs who want to live in real coexistence, and the Joint List MKs abandoned them. I won't forgive them from forcing us to go from talking about coexistence to talking about how to remove them from this House."
Nahmias-Verbin said she finds it challenging to work with colleagues who do not think the Jewish People belong in Israel.
The US and UK both have laws allowing their legislatures to expel one of its members.
The UK law, which applies to the House of Commons, was used three times in the 20th century, the last time in 1954, for MPs accused of corruption.
The American law, which is part of the US Constitution, was used twice in the 20th century as a response to corruption. The last time was in 2002.
In 1797, Senator William Blount of Tennessee was expelled after he was charged with planning to incite the Creek and Cherokee tribes to help the British conquer West Florida, then a Spanish territory.
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin