MKs spar over bill allowing them to suspend colleagues

The grounds for suspension would be those listed in Basic Law: Knesset for banning a party or person from running: Incitement to violence or racism, support for armed conflict against Israel.

February 23, 2016 18:02
4 minute read.

The Knesset plenum . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Law, Justice and Constitution Committee debated the pros and cons of an initiative allowing 90 MKs to vote out another lawmaker for hours on Tuesday.

Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) proposed a draft that would allow 61 MKs to request that the Knesset House Committee suspend an MK, and after a process in the committee, 90 MKs would have to approve the suspension for it to take effect.

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The grounds for suspension would be those listed in Basic Law: Knesset for banning a party or person from running: incitement to violence or racism; support for armed conflict or terrorism against Israel; or negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Slomiansky said he removed a controversial article from the bill by which speech endorsing one of the aforementioned prohibited matters could be grounds for suspension.

The idea for the bill was originally suggested by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after MKs from Balad, one of the parties making up the Joint List, met with the families of 10 terrorists whose bodies were being held by the police. The MKs stood in a moment of silence in memory of “Palestinian martyrs,” and the Balad Facebook page referred to the father of a terrorist who killed three Israelis as the father of a “martyr.”

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon said there is no legal or constitutional problem with the bill.

Still, Yinon raised some questions.

“It does not contradict a basic law,” he said. “Can the Supreme Court overturn a law that contradicts basic values?... It is clear that it is problematic for MKs, even in a special majority, to expel or suspend other MKs based on ideology. At the same time, we cannot ignore that the Knesset decided to set ideological limitations to serving in the Knesset.”

He supported the rarely- used procedure Slomiansky took to draft the bill, by which the committee proposes the bill as opposed to the government or an individual lawmaker.

According to Yinon, the process “allows all political sides take part, instead of [drafting the bill] in a closed cabinet discussion.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein expressed support for the bill, saying he would have hoped that such a measure wouldn’t be necessary, but he sees that is not so.

“Can legislation stop the trend, or if we wait, will things work out on their own? I think if we wait, unfortunately, we won’t get to a better place,” he said.

Edelstein suggested that at least 70 MKs be necessary to request that the House Committee vote on suspending an MK, warning that if the number is lower, such requests will be submitted too often and become “meaningless, like no-confidence motions.”

The Knesset speaker evinced hope that coalition discipline would not be used in the case of this vote, calling on MKs to vote according to their conscience.

Opposition MKs came out strongly against the proposal.

“None of us want to see people in the Knesset who don’t recognize Israel as Jewish and democratic, who incite to racism and support terror,” MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) said. “The question isn’t who we want to see in the Knesset, it’s who has the authority to decide who’s in the Knesset.”

She said that authority should not be in MKs’ hands, but in that of the courts.

Similarly, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said she is glad the Ethics Committee suspended Balad MKs and that MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) shouldn’t be in the Knesset.

However, she said, if the Supreme Court overturned the Central Election Committee’s decision to ban Zoabi from running, it’s not the Knesset’s job to remove her.

“I’m not defending Balad, I’m defending Israeli democracy,” she said.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On was unimpressed by changes suggested to the bill, quipping that “even in a pink wrapping it would be shameful.”

“You are authorizing political assassination.... You’re passing a draconian bill focused on one group. You can criticize Balad’s provocations....

What you’re trying to do is force your worldview on us,” she said to Slomiansky.

MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) said MKs “are not police officers or judges. How can I judge my political rivals? Does this not contradict the separation of powers?” “This is all about Balad, whose issue was inflated by Netanyahu, who is slowly moving towards an autocratic government,” he claimed.

MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) accused Netanyahu and Zoabi of being “strategic partners” and using the Knesset like a “puppet show.”

MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) spoke in support of the bill, pointing out that the US Constitution allows members of Congress to suspend their colleagues. He recounted that most of the times it was used were during the American Civil War, and quoted former US president Abraham Lincoln about the need for democracy to defend itself.

Similarly, MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said the bill “not only doesn’t harm democracy, it protects it.”

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said the proposal “responded to the public that has had enough. Enough! We have the right to defend ourselves, and we will not be ashamed.”

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