Arab MKs / The Real Danger to Democracy

On December 25, an extraordinary move was made in the Knesset, when the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee asked the Knesset plenum to halt the approval process on an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset proposed by National Religious Party chair MK Zevulun Orlev.

That Basic Law sets out the reasons for which the Election Committee can prevent a party or an individual from running. Among them are "negating the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state" and "support for a terror organization."

Orlev proposed that the Knesset committee, with the approval of the Supreme Court, be able to unseat a serving MK for these reasons.

Committee chair Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) explained that the proposal seemed illegal, and the coalition parties that had backed it in its preliminary reading withdrew their support. MKs should be made to step down by criminal proceedings and not by a Knesset committee, Ben-Sasson said. At the start of the coming Knesset session, Orlev intends to bring his proposal to a vote again.

These are the rules of the game: Arab MKs are constantly walking a fine line and sometimes crossing it, coming out harshly against the state, showing understanding for acts against it, and paying visits to enemy states like Syria and Lebanon. The right accuses the Arab MKs of disloyalty and treason, and proposes laws to limit their freedom of action and to unseat them. Each side claims the other side's acts are "a slippery slope that endangers Israeli democracy."

Yesterday, following the Bishara affair, Orlev proposed a bill blocking anyone who visited an enemy country from being elected to the Knesset. As early as 2001, Ariel Sharon's government passed an amendment to the law stating that a visit to an enemy country was punishable by four years in prison. The result: Arab MKs continue to visit enemy countries under their immunity, but the police investigate them. Orlev wants to put an end to this phenomenon. He intends to propose a bill in the next Knesset session by which all lawmakers have to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Such a law could mean an end to Arabs serving in the Knesset. "The Arab MKs exploit Israeli democracy," Orlev has said. He warns that Israel might find itself facing an Arab revolt.

The chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee, MK Haim Oron (Meretz), says that if MKs are disqualified based on their opposition to a "Jewish and democratic" state, disqualifications could go in all directions, for example, rejecting a lawmaker who supports a state based on halakha.

"The idea that you can play with the makeup of the parliament after it is elected is very dangerous," MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) says. He notes that the Nazis attained their parliamentary majority only after they unseated the Communists. That is not a comparison, he contends, but there is a historical lesson to be learned.

"It is the right that is systematically endangering democracy," MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al) says. "Enough with this witch hunt. You can't tailor laws to one MK," he says. "We refuse to relate to ourselves as subjects of low politicians who are tying to raise their stock," Hadash chair MK Mohammed Barakeh says in response to Orlev's proposals.

The question of whether the Arab lawmakers do not bring things on themselves makes him angry - he does not want Arab MKs to be treated as a group.