(photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Three out of four members of the Knesset Ethics Committee threatened to quit on Wednesday over a proposed change to the Knesset’s ethics rules limiting which NGOs can sponsor lawmakers’ trips abroad.
Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) proposed the change, by which MKs cannot go on trips paid for by organizations that reject Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, incite to racism, support armed conflict by a terrorist organization or enemy country against Israel, call to boycott Israel or regions of Israel – meaning, settlements – Israeli products, academia or culture, seek to put Israelis on trial for war crimes or deny the Holocaust.
The House Committee would be the panel to approve the change, but the Ethics Committee would have to enact it, as the latter authorizes MKs’ trips abroad. Currently, the Ethics Committee does not check any details of the trip except that it is not for profit or private needs.
Kisch’s proposal would not limit the actions a legislator can take on trips or things he or she can say, but it seeks to prevent them from cooperating with groups that meet the above guidelines.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon opposed the change, saying that it is both constitutionally and practically problematic, and goes against the idea of parliamentary immunity, which is meant to ensure freedom of political action for MKs.
Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) said that the day the new rules are approved, he will resign.
“Freedom of expression and movement for MKs are things that we protect in the Ethics Committee, across the political map,” Vaknin said. “Freedom of opinions is the air that democracy breathes. Our job in the Ethics Committee is to make sure there aren’t personal interests or benefits [being given to MKs], and not to check if the lawmakers’ opinions are to our liking or not.”
As for the other members of the Ethics Committee, MKs Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) and Eyal Ben Reuven (Zionist Union) also said they would resign if the initiative is approved. MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) had no comment.
“This is a change in the rules of the game of freedom of expression and political activity for MKs,” Jabareen lamented.
“It’s clear that from the moment that an organization can’t fund a trip, MKs won’t be able to fund it themselves, so they just won’t go.
“If this is approved, we’ll meet at the High Court of Justice,” he threatened.
Kisch defended the proposal by pointing out that in December, the Ethics Committee authorized firebrand MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) to travel abroad on the dime of Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV.
“In my eyes, that is an outrage that the Knesset authorizes participation in an openly anti-Israel event. Such a thing cannot happen,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Kisch decided not to hold a vote, but said he is determined to get approval for the new rule, and threats won’t stop him.
“This is a clear message: The Knesset will not authorize or promote ties with anti-Israel bodies,” Kisch said.