Politicians and their media advisers worked overtime last week to think up original sanctions that can be imposed on former Balad MK Azmi Bishara. Particularly impressive was this: a former deputy prime minister and interior minister, MK Eli Yishai of Shas, contacted Interior Minister Roni Bar-On with the demand to revoke Bishara's citizenship. Bar-On, also a former attorney general (though only for two days), asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to examine the possibility of seizing Bishara's property. The Knesset members focused on demands to deny Bishara his worker's compensation and adjustment money.
All these ideas are impossible, or very difficult, to implement. There is no known procedure for denying a Knesset member his retirement rights. The attorney general has already stated his strong objection to the use of the interior minister's authority to revoke citizenship. The seizure of property connected to acts of terror entails a long and complicated legal procedure. Why did the Knesset members and their aides have to make such a huge effort to be original? In part to overtrump the ideas that they themselves had proposed in the first wave of reports about Bishara.
At that time the chairman of the National Religious Party, MK Zevulun Orlev, submitted a proposal for a law that would deny a person who visits an enemy country the option of being elected to the Knesset. MK Effie Eitam of the National Union submitted a proposal for a law that would require anyone elected to the Knesset to undergo a security check. Likud MK Gilad Erdan declared he would submit a proposal to allow the expulsion of a Knesset member against whom an indictment is filed and who does not show up for his trial.
Clearly, one of the main factors for this wave of proposals is the struggle for a place in the media. Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore that all these proposals drill big holes in the boat in which not only Bishara but also the rest of the Knesset members are floating. Any damage to Bishara's status will not stop with him, but will constitute a precedent.
Israeli law has enough procedures for dealing with the Bishara affair. There is no need to to invent new procedures for him. Moreover, at this stage Bishara is not defined as a traitor and he has not been charged with treason. He is suspected of offenses whose details are not known.
There is only one worthy way of expelling Knesset members in Israel during their term: by judicial decision. The day Knesset members start getting expelled because of visits to an enemy country and not based on legal proceedings, the day the Shin Bet decides who will be a Knesset member by means of a security check, the day MKs are expelled by revoking their citizenship and MKs know their activity could harm their incomes in their old age - this will be the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy.
The members of the Knesset should also know that if today they expel Arab MKs without a trial, tomorrow right-wing or ultra-Orthodox or left-wing MKs are liable to be expelled. If a visit to an enemy country can constitute a reason for denying the right to be elected to the Knesset, why not deny this for other no less serious transgressions?
Therefore, even in times of crisis, like now in the Bishara affair, the unconditional independence of (all) Knesset members must be defended, along with their ability to act without fear. It is precisely the public's lack of faith in the Knesset and its members in recent years that necessitates defending it more. A weak Knesset that is not liked is much more vulnerable; and even if there is a great deal of criticism of it, this is the only Knesset we have.
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