Analysis: Incitement, trash-talking and free speech

"The Court has looked into various methods of punishing Knesset members who spark incitement."

Tibi 298.88 (photo credit: )
Tibi 298.88
(photo credit: )
Although the official vote on a law to eject MKs who support terror organizations from the Knesset will not take place until Wednesday afternoon, it appears that the bill is already in the bag. Most of the coalition MKs have already come out in support of the law. According to a spokesman for MK Zevulun Orlev, who wrote the bill, it may pass its preliminary plenum vote with a margin of over 75 votes. The lone voices of dissent, the Arab parties and Meretz, said that they had been effectively ostracized in light of the current crises in Gaza. The majority of MKs agree that the comments made by the Arab Knesset members are inappropriate for officials serving within the Israeli framework. But some are asking why the Knesset has not chosen to tackle the more general issue of incitement, instead of focusing its efforts on the verbal trashings of one particular sector. Take, for instance, some of the other divisive comments made by MKs as of late: May 4, 2006 - Israel Beiteinu leader MK Avigdor Leiberman called for executing Arab legislators who met with Hamas leaders. He said he hoped that the MKs would meet the same fate as those who collaborated with the Nazis and who were condemned to death at the Nuremberg trials. April 27, 2005 - National Union MK Arye Eldad (National Union) called for a "civil rebellion" during a rally in Gush Katif. Eldad told the crowd that they would have to explain to their grandchildren why they did not go to jail to try to stop then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip from happening. While those comments were often chastised by MKs through the Knesset Ethics Committee, the Knesset does not have a law controlling the speech of MKs. Orlev's law would be the first law to limit that immunity, by not granting MKs the right to speak in support of terror organizations. "MKs are granted immunity, and the High Court has ruled that as part of that immunity they are granted the right to speak freely," said Sigal Chogot, a legal advisor to the Knesset from the Supreme Court. "The Court has however, looked into various methods of punishing for Knesset members who spark incitement." In both the US and England there are codes of conduct that provide guidelines for behavior befitting an elected official. Israel has not yet devised such a code. For supporters of the bill, the main controversy surrounds the very issue that inspired it - a series of contentious comments made by Arab MKs since the start of the 17th Knesset. Even before the Knesset was officially sworn in, MK Ahmed Tibi shocked the Knesset by meeting with Hamas legislators in east Jerusalem. In the aftermath, his participation in the Temporary Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was attacked, and he was not given a spot when the permanent committee was formed. Less than a month later, Arab MKs again made headlines for a series of fiery exchanges with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who likened the MKs to "Nazi collaborators" for their support of Hamas. Most recently, MK Wasal Taha, has been attacked by his colleagues for his statement that the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit by Palestinian gunmen was "legitimate." Upon his departure as speaker of the 16th Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin said, "The level of derogatory and inciteful talk in the Knesset has reached an all-time low." Nowadays, however, Rivlin can only shake his head. "I had no idea what was coming," he said.