Knesset crackdown: Lawmakers can be fined for property damage, ethics violations

Legislature to reintroduce UK-style questions for PM, reduce no-confidence motions.

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October 21, 2015 05:20
4 minute read.
The Knesset

The Knesset. (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)

The Knesset Ethics Committee will have more authority to penalize MKs who commit serious violations or damage the legislature’s property.

The measure, which allows the Ethics Committee to fine lawmakers up to NIS 10,000 for damage to Knesset property or dock their salary for up to a month if the ethics panel suspends them from the Knesset, received the House Committee’s approval following hours of debate among legislators.

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The change will still have to go to three votes in the plenum.

Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) explained to the lawmakers that the panel does not have sufficient tools to penalize lawmakers for “brutal behavior.”

“An MK goes up to the podium and ties himself to it and dismantles the microphone. Today, all the committee can do is severely reprimand him or suspend him.

We’re doing him a favor by giving him publicity,” Vaknin said, referring to when MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) handcuffed himself to the podium in protest of the 2013 haredi enlistment bill.

Vaknin recalled another incident from 2013, in which MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) poured water on a copy the Beduin resettlement bill that was being discussed while standing at the podium in the plenum. His antics ended up damaging the sound system and costing the Knesset more than NIS 20,000.

“If someone causes damage or raises his hand [against someone else], what should we give him? A severe reprimand?” Vaknin asked.

“I’m sure [Tibi] didn’t think or intend to damage the sound system, but the Ethics Committee must be able to deal with extreme deviations... Our hands are tied.”

Vaknin added that the Ethics Committee is always more lenient on violations regarding something the MKs said, because “politics are built on freedom of speech.”

The Ethics Committee chairman also clarified that an MK’s record is always taken into consideration, which is why Joint List MK Basel Ghattas, who had no previous violations, was severely reprimanded and not suspended from the Knesset for taking part in a protest flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), a member of the Ethics Committee, said ethics violations “do not just harm the Knesset’s image, they harm democracy. MKs don’t lose anything from such behavior.

They get a headline on Ynet, and there are no consequences.”

Tibi argued that the bill meant to penalize Arab MKs, calling them “the Ethics Committee’s biggest clients,” and that the press is leading a campaign to focus coverage on him and his water-spilling escapades. He also accused House Committee chairman David Bitan of trying to impress the Likud central committee.

“The Likud caused billions of shekels in damages. Who’s going to pay for that?” Tibi asked.

“What if it turns out that I am working behind the scenes with tycoons, and I cause damage to the country?” MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) asked.

Bitan clarified that the law will be about tangible damage to Knesset property, not abstract damage.

MK Abdullah Abu Marouf (Joint List) suggested that the bill state that the new penalties only be issued if there is a unanimous vote in the Ethics Committee, and when Bitan refused, he and Tibi claimed it was because there is an Arab MK, Joseph Jabarin (Joint List), on the panel.

“We’re not here to replace the Ethics Committee, but we want to give it tools. They will decide whether to use the tools and how,” Bitan said.

MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) said that while the Ethics Committee needs tools to be effective, parliamentary immunity should not be weakened.

“Do not turn the Knesset into a censor or a punisher – that is a danger to democracy,” he argued.

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said that, while he does not have a problem with the Ethics Committee thus far, giving it more authority could lead to censorship.

Hazan called to cap the fine by a certain amount, which ended up being NIS 10,000, because many lawmakers live off their salaries, and don’t have pensions from previous jobs.

Bitan postponed a vote on a proposal to have the Knesset prioritize products from the West Bank in its purchasing decisions. Several opposition MKs wrote letters of protestation to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, calling for him to cancel the meeting. Edelstein responded that he does not have the authority to cancel meetings, but that by law, the Knesset has to put out open tenders for purchases.

On Monday evening, coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) and Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli reached an agreement to reintroduce a UK parliament-style Prime Minister’s Questions hour to the Knesset in exchange for reducing the number of no-confidence motions to 10 per annum.

Ten times each year, ministers, including the prime minister, will have to answer questions from MKs, mostly from the opposition, without knowing in advance what the questions will be.

Hanegbi said the procedure will “deepen parliamentary oversight of the executive branch and strengthen the Knesset’s stature.”

In 2006, then-Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik instated a questions hour.

In the UK, the prime minister spends about half an hour every Wednesday answering questions from MKs.


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