Keeping MKs in line
The spectacle of MKs thumbing their noses at the law is bad for the country and doubly disastrous for the Knesset.
Knesset building. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
When any Knesset member sets out with premeditation to break the law from the
Knesset plenum, he/she should not automatically expect to get away with it due
to the extensive immunity accorded MKs, Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon warned
this week. He counseled MKs not to automatically perceive the Knesset as a
In itself that is a refreshing elucidation and
reassessment of the sweeping personal immunity from legal jeopardy conferred
Political lore traces this particular feature of our system all
the way back to prewar Poland. Its original aim was foremost to protect MKs from
harassment by the powers-that-be. Mistrust of the once omnipotent Mapai was so
great that it fanned fears of detentions on trumped-up pretexts to keep
opposition lawmakers, for example, from arriving on time to the House for key
votes. That resulted in immunity so broad that it once shielded MKs even from
But times have changed radically and MKs’ immunity now
remains applicable chiefly in cases that ostensibly involve the performance of
their’s duties. Nevertheless, this less-encompassing version of parliamentary
immunity also leaves lots of leeway for cynical abuse.
came in the wake of the furor stirred by MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Ahmed Tibi
(United Arab List-Ta’al) and Dov Henin (Hadash) when they exploited Knesset
question time (televised live) to ask about “Prisoner X,” Ben Zygier. The
court-mandated gag order was then still in place. All three invoked their
immunity and appeared quite delighted to have pulled off a clever
While Yinon stressed that his opinion is not linked to any
specific incident, he is seen as having rapped the three lightly on the knuckles
when he argued that, as distinct from an outburst in the heat of the moment, a
calculated and conscious decision to breach the law via a statement in the
Knesset does not necessarily fall under the protection of parliamentary
immunity. Legislators might well find themselves as legally liable as would any
As expected, Yinon’s opinion drew heavy fire from
opposition benches, especially on the Left.
Nonetheless, Yinon’s legal
interpretation should have a sobering effect on heady MKs who have come to trust
that they can resort to any illegal mischief with impunity.
indeed shows that Israel’s parliamentary immunity was successfully exploited by
many legislators, frequently from the Arab sector. Most notable were Balad MK
Haneen Zoabi’s participation in the Mavi Marmara provocation of 2010 and Tibi’s
numerous excursions on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
It is safe to
assume that Yinon’s learned paper will not deter anyone, especially as no
sanction is likely against Gal-On, Tibi and Henin.
Arguing that the law
is wrong and deserves to be violated is no defense but a call for anarchic
disobedience on any matter not to the liking of any given politician.
news blackout on the Zygier case, whether one agrees with it or not, was legally
obtained and approved by our justice system throughout. It could have been
challenged via a written parliamentary query. The fact that three MKs together
opted for a televised plenum session indicates not only aforethought but
This is hardly trivial or funny. Some of our Knesset
committees – especially select Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittees – are
entrusted with super-sensitive classified information. What if any MK would
consider it a lark to openly divulge state secrets? Already there is great
reluctance to share confidential material with key Knesset committees because of
their reputations for “leaking like a sieve.”
Defiant noncompliance with
the law under the parliamentary immunity shield would justify increasing
inclinations to keep our lawmakers in the dark.
The Knesset needs to keep
its members more reasonably in line. It needs to deter impudent unruliness much
more convincingly. The spectacle of MKs thumbing their noses at the law when it
suits their agenda is not only bad for the country. It is doubly disastrous for
the Knesset, because when the Knesset loses the trust of other government
branches, it will undermine its own ability to oversee and to influence.