Knesset approves first reading of MK suspension bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for the bill, which was his brainchild.

The Knesset plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset plenum
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset voted in favor of a controversial amendment to the Basic Law: Knesset, by which lawmakers would be able to vote to suspend colleagues who support terrorism by a 90-MK majority, in a first reading Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for the bill, which was his brainchild, saying at a Likud faction meeting that it is “meant to remove MKs who stand against Israel and for terrorism.”
Following several hours of debate, coalition MKs voted 59-53 on the bill that would allow 61 MKs to request that the Knesset House Committee suspend an MK, and after a process in the panel during which the potentially suspended MK can defend him or herself, 90 MKs would have to vote in the plenum for the suspension for it to take effect.
The grounds for suspension would be those listed in the Basic Law: Knesset for banning a party or person from running: incitement to violence or racism, support for armed conflict against Israel or negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The suspension can last as long as the rest of the MK’s term, and he or she would be replaced by their party’s next in line.
The idea for the bill was originally suggested by Netanyahu after MKs Jamal Zahalke, Haneen Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas from Balad, one of the parties making up the Joint List, met with the families of terrorists.
The MKs stood in a moment of silence in memory of “Palestinian martyrs,” and the Balad Facebook page referred to the father of a terrorist who killed three Israelis as the father of a “martyr.”
If the law passes, it will not be effective retroactively, meaning it would not apply to what the Balad MKs or any lawmakers have already done. The Knesset Ethics Committee already suspended the three legislators from all Knesset activity but voting in February for two to four months depending on their records.
Ahead of the vote, Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon said it would be preferable, but not necessary, for the bill to be approved by at least 61 votes, rather than a simple majority of the lawmakers present.
Having 61 votes would give Yinon a stronger defense before the Supreme Court in a likely challenge to the law once it passes.
However, while the coalition was easily able to get a simple majority, because Yisrael Beytenu skipped the vote, it struggled to get 61 votes, as Likud MKs Avraham Naguise and David Amsalem have been skipping votes for the past three weeks to protest against the Prime Minister’s Office slowing down the schedule for Ethiopian aliya.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman explained in a faction meeting ahead of the vote that he supports the idea of suspending errant MKs, so his faction won’t vote against it. However, he said he would only vote for the bill if the coalition supported his bill that would bar the Supreme Court from overturning Central Elections Committee decisions to ban candidates from running for the Knesset.
Netanyahu hinted at Liberman’s statements, saying “those who say they’re for the bill should vote for it, instead of helping those who support terrorism.”
During the debate on the bill, Joint List MKs, who saw themselves as its primary target, used their speeches to declare loyalty to democracy and human rights.
“I will do all I can to uproot phenomena of fascism and racism and exclusion. I will continue to fight the occupation of the Palestinian people and for peace, and will continue to act for social justice and equality,” the Joint List MKs each said, in turn.
In a committee meeting about the bill last month, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said the faction’s MKs would resign from the Knesset if it becomes law.
Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), who drafted the bill via the panel he leads, said: “Democracies give important rights to all citizens, but every same democracy must know there are limits, or else people will take advantage of democracy to undermine democracy.”
Slomiansky also said the need for 90 votes is a safeguard to ensure the bill won’t be used for political revenge and only those who deserve it will be removed.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) quipped that saying suspending an MK protects democracy sounds like newspeak, from George Orwell’s book 1984.