"Democracy need not commit suicide in order to prove its vitality,” former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak ruled.
As we begin 2016, nations around the world are grappling with global terrorism, its sponsors and those which incite it. Recent attacks in France have created an important discussion about how democracies should defend themselves, and the government there is handing powers to the judiciary and enforcement agencies that few would have contemplated even a year ago.
The French Republic is joining a host of other Western nations in taking the position that their societies are under attack and they need to act strongly and vigorously in the face of the new global threat.
Israel has been facing this threat since its reestablishment in 1948.
However, in recent years a new and greater threat to our society has been forming in the very seat of our robust democracy.
Members of Knesset like Haneen Zoabi, who has defended terrorism and murder, joined armed flotillas which sought to harm Israelis, and was recently been indicted for insulting an Arab policeman, and Ahmad Tibi, who was previously a close adviser to Yasser Arafat and continues to incite against Israelis, are a stain on Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state and are trying to undermine it from within.
Zoabi’s party, Balad, was founded and led for many years by Azmi Bishara who has been accused of treason and espionage for giving Hezbollah information on strategic locations in Israel that should be attacked with rockets during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in exchange for huge amounts of money.
During the term of a previous Knesset, before the revolution in Libya, Tibi and other Arab members of Knesset traveled to meet with then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Describing the visit to Gadaffi’s Libya as “wonderful,” these Israeli-Arab MK’s were feted by the autocrat who discussed with his guests ways to end the existence of the State of Israel in its current form.
While the Syrian regime continues massacring its own people, another Arab-Israeli member of Knesset led a demonstration of support for Bashar Assad, claiming the Syrian leader was the “victim of aggression” even as the rest of the world stands aghast at his systematic butchery.
While these Arab MKs are consorting with Israel’s enemies, their constituents are being ignored and becoming more alienated. These lawmakers are neither progressive nor liberal and are solely focused on sowing discord and enmity between Arabs and Jews.
The Arab mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salem, put it best when he shouted at the leader of the Joint (Arab) List political grouping, Ayman Odeh, during an interview about the hatred he was creating between Arabs and Jews. “You’ve burned the world. I blame the leaders; they are destroying our future,” Salem told Odeh. “You’ve ruined everything.”
During the last two election campaigns, the Central Elections Committee, a committee made up of representatives from across the political spectrum, voted to disqualify those from running in the general elections who support terrorism and reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, which is necessary for a prospective member of Knesset to accept.
Haneen Zoabi met both of these criteria and was disqualified on both occasions by the committee, only for the decision to be overturned on both occasions by the Supreme Court.
It is unconscionable that the voice of the people, the Knesset, is being overruled time and time again by the Supreme Court, which is not adhering to the Basic Law: Knesset, Section 7a, “Prevention of participation of candidates' list,” regarding who is not qualified to run for Knesset.
The court has ruled in the past to disqualify a whole party, the Jewish extremist Kach party, led by Meir Kahane, so why can it not bring itself to disqualify non-Jews who easily fit the same criteria? Last year, Yisrael Beytenu drafted legislation that would empower the Knesset to expel lawmakers who voice support for armed combat and terrorism against the State of Israel, which would not be able to be overturned by the Supreme Court. This measure was supported by many politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.
However, last week, when the bill reached the floor of the Knesset, it was voted down 66-6. The six votes came from every member of Knesset from the Yisrael Beytenu party.
This means, that in the height of daily acts of terrorism, and with the government and enforcement agencies scraping for a response, no other member of Knesset, from any party, Left, Right or Center, felt that it was important to expel voices of incitement to terrorism and violence from inside the Knesset.
Israeli taxpayers will continue paying the salary and expenses of those who support, promote or accept terrorism against them.
No other Western democracy faces the daily terrorism that Israel does. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, that no fellow democracy would allow such voices to remain in its legislature. If Israel is to be a nation of laws, we must uphold those that are constitutionally mandated and not ignore them, especially when safety and security is at stake.
The government has thus far been unable to stem the terrorism on Israel’s streets. It needs to take a far stronger hand when dealing with terrorism and incitement, and it can send an important symbolic message to terrorists and those who want to end Israel in its current form that their supporters will not continue doing so from within the Knesset.
The writer is a member of Knesset and chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, and a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister.