President Reuven Rivlin on Monday condemned legislation that would allow MKs to vote out their colleagues who express support for terrorism, as a violation of a parliament’s purpose in a democracy.
In his remarks at a book launch in Jerusalem, Rivlin said the proposal goes against the Knesset’s inherent role as representative of the sovereign, not the sovereign itself, and places the elected above the public.
“We cannot allow the Knesset, whose representatives are chosen by the public, to independently overturn the public’s choices,” he added.
“A Knesset that is able, even if justly, to today decide upon the cessation of the office of such representatives of the public, will tomorrow, unjustly do so to others, and then where will we be? “The Knesset cannot be allowed, as a legislative body to become judge and jury.
Such a situation will, over time, overstep and undermine its purpose, and the sole victim will be the State of Israel,” Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker, said.
The president’s remarks referred to a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow 90 MKs to vote out a lawmaker who violates the terms of Basic Law: The Knesset for running for a seat in the legislature, such as by supporting terrorism, among other ways. The bill was drafted by the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, thus avoiding intervention by the Attorney- General’s Office in a government bill, and the panel is expected to review it Tuesday.
The proposal came after Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, MKs from Balad, one of the parties making up the Joint List, met with 10 families of terrorists who killed Israelis and whose bodies are being held by the police who say the families have rejected demands to hold a modest funeral to avoid violence. The three lawmakers stood in a moment of silence for Palestinian “martyrs,” and a Balad Facebook page identified one of the terrorists, who killed three Israelis, as a “martyr.” One of the bodies was released early Monday.
The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended the MKs from all Knesset activity except voting for two months for Zahalka – who had fewer prior offenses – and four for Zoabi and Ghattas.
Rivlin condemned the Balad MKs and called on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to address the issue.
“When three MKs decide to visit the families of terrorists, to spit in the faces of the citizens of Israel, in the faces of the families of the victims, in the faces of all those working to rebuild trust between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, it is not only the right of the attorney-general to instruct to open an investigation of the facts, it is his duty to do so,” Rivlin said.
Mandelblit instructed police to look into the events last week.
Still, Rivlin said that even if the Balad MKs are put in trial, “Heaven help us if the Knesset would be the one to sit in judgment.”
On Sunday, speaking to the Israel Democracy Institute’s International Advisory Council, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also voiced objections to the idea of a bill allowing MKs to vote out their colleagues, and said “it would never be tabled as long as I’m speaker.”
Edelstein clarified Monday night that while he opposed an earlier proposal to vote out MKs for poor behavior, he supports the new version drafted by the Constitution Committee.
The Constitution Committee released a draft of the suspension bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset, on Monday, which states a lawmaker can be suspended for negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism, or supporting armed struggle by a hostile state or terrorist organization against the State of Israel. Speech indicating such positions would be grounds for the suspension.
The suspension process would begin with a request signed by 61 MKs, which would have to be approved by at least three-quarters of the Knesset House Committee’s members, and then brought to the plenum where at least 90 lawmakers would have to vote in its favor for it to take effect.
The candidate for suspension would have a chance to defend him or herself before the House Committee. If the panel rejects the punishment, its decision will be final. If not, the committee must determine the length of the suspension, which can be until the end of the MK’s term.
Suspended MKs will be able to challenge the punishment in the Supreme Court.
The Balad MKs’ meeting with terrorists’ families could not be used to remove them from office, as the bill states that it can only apply to actions taken after it passes into law.