Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the coalition parties agreed Sunday to formulate legislation that would suspend MKs because of “inappropriate behavior” if a special majority of 90 Knesset members voted to do so.
The move comes amid continued furor over the three Balad MKs – Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas – who last week met the families of 10 terrorists and stood in a moment of silence in their honor.
The legislation, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, would be similar to that currently on the books enabling the suspension of the president and the speaker and deputy speaker of the Knesset.
Because it would be an amendment to a Basic Law, a 61-MK majority would be necessary for the new legislation to pass, which is considered a given. Equally a given is the likelihood that this would eventually be adjudicated by the Supreme Court.
As the legislation wends its way through the Knesset, the Knesset House Committee will be called upon to determine the length of the suspension.
The three Arab MKs are “building walls of hate” while the government is investing significant resources in trying to integrate Israeli Arabs into Israeli society, Netanyahu said at the opening of the Sunday cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu said he could only imagine what the response would be if members of the US Congress or British Parliament stood in a moment of silence for murderers who killed their nationals.
“I think there would justifiably have been a great outcry,” he said, adding that he had asked Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to examine what legal actions could be taken against the MKs, and what changes can be made in existing laws to ensure that those who act this way in the future will not serve in the Knesset.
“This is important statement as to what kind of society we want,” Netanyahu said.
Mandelblit announced later in the day that he had instructed the police investigations and intelligence division to collect information relating to the MKs’ visit. His office emphasized that no other action will be taken until it receives initial information from the police.
On Monday, the Knesset House Committee will discuss the possibility of requesting that Mandelblit and the Knesset Ethics Committee remove the Balad MKs’ parliamentary immunity so they can be put on trial for their actions. Lawmakers from the Joint List, of which Balad is a part, plan to boycott the meeting.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told reporters on his way into the cabinet meeting that Israel had no intention of releasing the bodies of the terrorists for burial until their families commit to burying them in the middle of the night with only a small number of participants.
“The bodies will remain in the hands of the police until we can ensure that the funerals will be quiet and not demonstrations of support for terrorists,” he said.
Regarding the visit of the three Mks, Erdan said that if the purpose was to discuss the conditions for the funerals that was one thing. But if during the visit they – as has been reported – showed signs of support for the terrorists, that would be a violation of the law, and the MKs’ immunity should be lifted and they should be tried.
Most legal observers have predicted that no criminal charges will be filed since the law in this area is technical and, regardless of the potential implied support for terrorism, the Balad MKs said they were only visiting to discuss helping the families obtain the bodies of their sons.
According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, the three MKs stood in a moment of silence for the terrorists during the visit.
Zahalka, meanwhile, said Netanyahu “knows well that our meeting had one and only purpose, to deal with returning the bodies of people who were killed and [their families] want to bury them, but he decided to distort the purpose of the meeting and claim it had a different purpose, comforting mourners, so that he could incite.”
He said Netanyahu had come to the conclusion that the MKs did not break the law or any ethics rules and, therefore, he wanted to pass a new law to try to suspend the MKs.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) echoed this sentiment, writing on Facebook that this “closes the circle from when Netanyahu said ‘the Arabs are swarming to the polls.’” She charged that Netanyahu was cynically, and in a nasty manner, “taking advantage of proposals that have been going around the far Right for a long time.”
MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, also accused Netanyahu of incitement.
“According to Netanyahu, he needs to rule like an emperor and the Knesset must act according to the tyranny of the majority,” he said.
Odeh accused the government of “corpse trafficking,” saying the purpose of the Balad MKs’ visit was “a basic human matter.”
“A person who dies, no matter how bad his crime is, must be buried. That does not contradict our moral and principled stance condemning all harm to innocent people,” he said.
Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein submitted complaints to the Knesset Ethics Committee on Sunday, one of the few courses of action they can currently take against the Balad MKs. The committee received a record 450 complaints from MKs and the public regarding the matter.
In a related development, the cabinet approved Erdan’s recommendation to stiffen the punishment for employers who either employ, house or transport people in Israel illegally.
Under the plan, which must be incorporated into existing legislation, companies employing illegal persons may be fined up to NIS 450,000 and their businesses closed for a month. Likewise, the new directives would give the courts the authority to close down a construction site if illegal workers were employed there and to take away the contractor’s building permits.
“It needs to be understood that many of the terrorist attacks that have occurred have been perpetrated by people who are in Israel illegally,” Netanyahu told the cabinet.
“Therefore, we must make whoever employs them, whoever shelters them, whoever transports them – bear the consequences.”
Erdan said employers hiring workers not in the country legally was a “national plague” that stems from “weak punishment.”Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.