(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For the first time in Knesset history, the Knesset House Committee began Wednesday morning discussions for the impeachment of a sitting president.
President Moshe Katsav's lawyer, Zion Amir, arrived at the Knesset minutes before the discussions were convened, calming doubts that the president would refuse to cooperate with the Knesset. On Tuesday, Katsav's attorney's seesawed back and forth, before bowing to public criticism and announcing they would attend the committee discussions.
Amir opened the meeting by telling the MKs that he respected all of them and was "curious to hear some of the speakers." Amir also told the MKs that they did not have all the materials and evidence at their disposal, and therefore could not make an accurate assessment of Katsav's guilt.
"We don't know if the complainants are the victims or President Moshe Katsav. Maybe they were raped but maybe the president is the one who was raped," said Amir. He added that the announcement of an indictment by Attorney General Menahem Mazuz was "measured."
"Mazuz said that he is contemplating filing an indictment, this means that he has yet to decide on the matter," said Amir, adding that Katsav's court hearing will most likely take place in April.
Knesset House Committee Chairwoman MK Ruhama Avraham began the proceedings by asking MKs to consider the implications of the impeachment.
"From the public point of view, for President Moshe Katsav to remain in his position is not appropriate, and is unacceptable and unreasonable, and therefore the Knesset House Committee is obligated to consider their legal responsibility on the matter," Avraham said.
"We are all being asked to make a difficult decision."
Avraham, who announced that she would have "no patience" for anyone speaking out of order, clashed with a number of MKs in the room, who frequently spoke out of turn. The arguments erupted when MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) insisted on raising a motion, and was forcibly removed from the committee by Avraham.
"You are giving a bad name to the management of the Knesset House Committee, and every member of the Knesset knows it," Tibi said, and added, "We despise your behavior." MK Zehava Gal-On was also nearly removed from the room when she clashed with Katsav's lawyers.
"You sat there and insulted the institution of the Knesset by calling us a 'kangaroo court' and claiming that we are not qualified to vote on Katsav's impeachment," said Gal-On. "The investigation material is irrelevant for our discussion. We are not talking about the material. The Knesset cannot be prevented from exerting its authority. Katsav has acted in a manner that is not befitting a public figure."
MKs from the Shas Party lead the rebuttal against Gal-On, with MK Yaakov Margi saying, "How can I impeach him? Tomorrow it's me, tomorrow it's you. I believe the impeachment procedure is unnecessary and shameful." The Knesset House Committee began impeachment hearings two weeks ago at the request of 40 MKs.
According to a procedure set out several weeks ago, the committee will meet several times before conducting a vote. If 19 of 25 MKs approve the impeachment, it will go before the Knesset plenum, where 90 of 120 MKs must approve the motion.