MKs beware: Calling each other 'terrorists' or 'Nazis' is now punishable

Though the Ethics Committee has a policy of not punishing lawmakers for speech, it decided to make an exception for personal accusations.

March 21, 2016 21:47
2 minute read.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It is an ethics violation for MKs to call each other “murderers,” “terrorists” or “Nazis,” the Knesset Ethics Committee determined Monday, severely reprimanding Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh for that offense.

Though the Ethics Committee has a policy of not punishing lawmakers for speech, it decided to make an exception for personal accusations.

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“The committee and all of its members turn to MKs and ask them not to use expressions against their colleagues such as ‘murderer,’ ‘terrorist’ and ‘Nazi,’” a notice from the panel read. “Such personal accusations are not legitimate, and using them is a violation of the ethics rules and can lead to significant sanctions on whoever uses them.”

The decision came as an appendix to the Ethics Committee’s notice that it is severely reprimanding Odeh for saying in a speech to the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee that MKs who are former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chiefs – the Likud’s Avi Dichter and Yesh Atid’s Ya’acov Peri – are “murderers.”

“There are members of this parliament who murdered Arabs with their own hands. There are members of this parliament who gave instructions to kill the leaders of the Palestinian people, and we are sitting under the same roof as them. We, who don’t know kinds of weapons or how to use them, we are called extremists, supporters of terrorists,” Odeh said in February.

Asked about his statements later, in an interview with Channel 2, Odeh mentioned Dichter specifically as someone involved in murder, accusing him of sending people to kill former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.

Dichter complained to the Ethics Committee that Odeh’s statements may lead to justify violence against him and Peri and heads of security agencies and anyone who was involved in killing terrorists while serving the country.

Dichter also said the names Odeh mentioned were “arch-terrorists, and attacks on them were part of the State of Israel’s all-out war to protect its citizens, Jewish and Arab.”

Peri’s complaint to the committee said that he was “disappointed to find that Odeh joined those who deteriorate the discourse...A redline was clearly crossed.”

In his defense, Odeh said that his statements were part of an MK’s freedom of speech and that he didn’t complain when lawmakers incited against the members of his faction, calling them terrorists and Hamas’ representatives in the Knesset.

Odeh refused to apologize to Dichter.

The Ethics Committee determined that since Odeh made serious and personal accusation against an MK, it cannot be seen as part of his political free speech. Criticizing the policy of targeted killings of terrorists would have been legitimate, but not accusing an MK of murder when he was serving the state and defending its citizens, the committee stated.

A minority opinion on the committee – MK Yussef Jabareen (Joint List) – stated that Odeh should not be reprimanded, because in the past, MKs have not been punished for making similar statements.

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