Israel must protect itself from those who take advantage of its democracy to destroy it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, urging Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) to work towards passing legislation to suspend errant MKs in a vote by at least 90 of his or her colleagues.
“There’s a difference between anarchy and democracy,” Netanyahu said in a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. “When MKs support movements that clearly call to destroy Israel, when they support terrorism, when they stand silently in memory of people who murder children, the Knesset can and must act against them.”
The prime minister urged members of the opposition to also vote in favor of the bill, “because there are certain limits democracies must set in order to protect themselves, and we will fulfill that in this case.”
Netanyahu called Slomiansky from Berlin after the latter canceled a committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday to work on the bill the prime minister initiated last week.
Early Tuesday morning, Slomiansky’s office released a statement: “In light of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s stance that the amendment to Basic Law: Knesset to suspend an MK will not pass as long as he is speaker, Slomiansky decided to delay the discussion of the bill… until the prime minister returns from abroad and the Likud faction reaches a clear stance.”
Slomiansky referred to a video released by the Israel Democracy Institute of Edelstein speaking to the think tank’s International Advisory Council, in which he 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.”
Eight hours before Slomiansky made his decision, Edelstein clarified to The Jerusalem Post that he opposed an earlier proposal by Netanyahu to vote out MKs for poor behavior, and he made his remarks in response to a question from former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk describing such a policy.
However, Edelstein supports the new version drafted by the Constitution Committee, in which the grounds for suspending a lawmaker are based on the conditions for running for a seat in the legislature in Basic Law: Knesset, which states that a candidate may not negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite to racism, or support armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel. The Constitution Committee’s draft would make speech indicating such positions grounds for the suspension and a ban from running.
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said suspending the suspension bill debate is not enough, and it should be completely removed from the Knesset’s agenda.
MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) said the bill is a “slippery slope at the end of which MKs from all factions will be harmed and bullied because of their political views,” and expressed concern that Slomiansky only postponed the meeting because of Edelstein’s statements and not because the bill is “anti-democratic.”
Speaking in favor of the bill, MK Nava Boker (Likud) said she does not understand the criticism of the bill, because “it is necessary for democracies to defend themselves, and if the High Court stops every attempt to ban parties that support terrorism, we have to find alternative [ways to address the issue]. The public expects us to act, especially when the fruits of incitement are presented to all every morning through Palestinian stabbing terrorism.”
On Monday night, President Reuven 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.
The suspension process as described in the bill 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.
Netanyahu initiated the bill to suspend MKs 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 murdered 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 Monday.
However, 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.
The US and UK both have laws allowing their legislatures to expel members. The British law was used the last time in 1954, for MPs accused of corruption.
The American law, which is part of the US Constitution, was used twice in the 20th century in response to corruption.
The last time was in 2002.
In Israel, an MK’s term automatically ends if he or she is convicted of a crime with moral turpitude.