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The Knesset on Tuesday passed the first reading of a bill stating that people who have visited an enemy country cannot be elected to parliament. If the bill, which has extensive backing in the Knesset, becomes law, the senior members of all the Arab parties would be disqualified from being MKs.

The widespread support for the bill, which passed by a vote of 63-16, indicates that it has a good chance of becoming law by the end of the summer session - in time to apply to contenders in the next general election.

"The bill is intended to stop Trojan horses from infiltrating the Israeli Knesset," said National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev, who proposed the bill along with MK Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beiteinu).

Arab MKs objected to the move.

"This is a black day for the Knesset and for democracy," said MK Wasal Taha (Balad). "The proposal is directed against the leadership of the Arab public."

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said the "populist" bill would not withstand scrutiny by the High Court of Justice, since it infringes on the right to be elected to the Knesset.

In order to help it withstand a High Court challenge, Orlev and Tartman are making an effort to pass the bill with a majority of more than 61 MKs.

Supporters of the bill, which is an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset, include a raft of top Kadima officials: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon. The Labor Party voted against the bill.

The proposal states that any Knesset candidate who visited an enemy country without the interior minister's permission in the seven years prior to the submission of his party's candidate list will not be allowed to run for Knesset.

This is because he will be considered to have expressed support for armed struggle against Israel - unless the candidate can prove that his stay in the enemy country did not entail support for armed struggle.

The clause allowing the candidate to prove his innocence was added after the Justice Ministry said the original proposal, which did not have this escape clause, was unconstitutional.

The countries referred to by the bill are Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.