Booting MKs mid-term

Zoabi stood on the Knesset podium last Wednesday and lied. She claimed that IDF naval commandos opened fire without warning before boarding the boat.

June 7, 2010 01:19
3 minute read.
BALAD MK, Haneen Zoabi

BaladMKHaneenZoabi311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation discussed on Sunday a bill that would allow MKs to remove fellow parliamentarians for expressing views considered to be dangerous or anti-democratic.

MKs who reject the existence of the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic, who incite to racism or who support an armed struggle by terrorist groups against Israel, could be disqualified mid-term if 80 MKs vote in favor. The law would enable the Knesset to remove the rebel MKs even if they had not technically committed a crime punishable by criminal law. The immunity enjoyed by MKs would not protect them.

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Drafted by MK Danny Danon (Likud), the bill was first conceived after former MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) was accused of espionage for Hizbullah. But the proposed legislation received renewed attention last week, and has been nicknamed the “Zoabi bill” after MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad), who was aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Zoabi stood on the Knesset podium last Wednesday and lied. She claimed that IDF naval commandos opened fire without warning before boarding the boat. She denied that the commandos were attacked. Even in the face of video footage to the contrary, Zoabi did not change her version of the events.

Israel’s parliament is no stranger to stormy sessions, but the mayhem that broke out in response to her remarks was unusual. Many Jewish MKs were incensed. One, Anastasia Michaeli, climbed up on the podium and attempted to physically stop Zoabi’s speech.

AN ARGUMENT can certainly be made for banning MKs who purposely distort the truth to incite against Israel. Political freedom is the basis of democratic rule, but when this freedom is abused and exploited to undermine democracy, it must be curtailed.

Yet we already have laws on the books to which MKs can be held accountable if their conduct constitutes a criminal offense. And the Knesset has already put in place a mechanism for disqualifying political parties before they are elected.

Before every national vote, the Central Elections Committee, which is made up of MKs from the outgoing Knesset, according to their relative electoral strength, has the power to disqualify an entire list or a specific individual on that list. The committee’s decision can be appealed to the High Court of Justice.

In 1988, Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, which advocated the transfer of Arab citizens, became the first list to be disqualified. So far Kach, which was blocked again in the 1992 elections, is the only party that has ever been outlawed on the national level. In November 1998, the Moledet-Gesher-Tsomet list was disqualified in a municipal vote in Upper Nazareth. In contrast, in 2003 the High Court overturned the committee’s disqualification of Bishara and MK Ahmed Tibi.

If the election committee has already given its stamp of approval, why should the Knesset get a second chance? If Danon’s bill aims to bypass the High Court, it would not only exacerbate the already tense relations between judges and lawmakers, it would also, more substantively, enable the political majority to silence minority views without any judicial oversight.

The new bill, which seeks to amend and expand the existing legislation, would doubtless be castigated even by Israel’s friends as undemocratic. The existing law is problematic enough, because the criteria are unclear. Kach was banned for advocating transfer. But various Arab lists advocating a binational state and the return of Palestinian refugees – initiatives which if implemented would bring the demise of a Jewish state – have not been disqualified.

Outlawing parties or MKs for their views does not help eliminate those views. In the case of Arab lists, indeed, it would only make them more popular.

Arab MKs have a history of extreme statements. Notably, in September 2006, just a month after the Second Lebanon War and while on a visit to Syria, Bishara publicly praised Damascus’s “struggle to free occupied Arab land” and its “resistance against occupation.” Were the state to have judged such action appropriate, Bishara could have been prosecuted under one of several criminal laws.

Banning is not a solution to the problem presented by legislators who promulgate ideas undermining Israel’s Jewish, democratic character. Zoabi’s lies might arouse our rancor, but they do not justify a suspension of democratic processes.

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