After Stormy Debate, Bill Allowing Knesset to Expel Lawmakers Passes First Legislative Hurdle

Bill frustrates the will of the voters, attorney general warns; Joint Arab List head Ayman Odeh says he’ll resign if Balad MKs are ousted. Bill is 'The parliamentary translation of the phrase 'Death to Arabs,'' MK Tibi says.

Jonathan Lis
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MK Ayman Odeh at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, February 29, 2016.
MK Ayman Odeh at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, February 29, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis

A bill that would permit the Knesset to expel a sitting lawmaker was approved on Monday by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee after turbulent debate. The bill is expected to go to the full Knesset next week for the first of three plenum votes.

The bill, which is in fact an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset, would allow the legislature to expel any member if a three-fourths majority (90 Knesset members) is reached.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit warned the committee about the dangers posed by such a law but said there was no constitutional impediment to passing it.

According to a written opinion from the Attorney General’s Office that was read out loud during Monday’s session, “great caution” must be taken in legislating the bill because of the “structural issues” it creates. In addition, allowing the political majority to end the term of an MK who was elected in accordance with the law frustrates the will of the voters.

That opinion was read aloud by a representative of the Justice Ministry only after opposition members insisted on it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the bill's passing, thanking "all members of the Likud faction and all members of the coalition who pulled together for this important effort."

Because the bill is sponsored by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and not the government it did not require the attorney general’s prior approval.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky at Monday's committee session.
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky at Monday's committee session.Credit: Emil Salman

Joint Arab List chairman Ayman Odeh said during the committee debate that if any members of Balad are expelled he would consider resigning himself. Balad is one of the four Arab parties making up the Joint Arab List.

“We were elected by our people and not by the right wing,” Odeh said. “We were not elected by other Knesset members and we do not seek or need to appease them. Therefore, if you decide to expel the members of Balad, I will consider resigning from the Knesset.”

“Despite the delegitimization campaign against us and the raising of the electoral threshold, we decided to remain part of Israeli politics, yet we continue to be harassed,” Odeh said.

The real aim is eliminate the Balad members from the Knesset, he charged. “ All of a sudden [certain politicians] are talking about Balad, not the Joint List. After the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel was outlawed, now they’re demonizing Balad.”

Balad’s three MKs were suspended in February — one for a period of two months and two for a period of four months — following a public uproar over their meeting with the families of slain Palestinian terrorists.

MK Abdullah Abu Maaruf (Joint Arab List) was ejected from Monday’s session while shouting: “This law is terrorism, like that of dark regimes.”

MK Ahmad Tibi severely criticized the bill's passing, saying that it is the "parliamentary translation of the phrase 'Death to Arabs.'"

"It's not easy to be an Arab in Israel and it's certainly not easy to be an Arab MK here in the Knesset. It's an uneasy personal compromise," he said, adding: "Do you think we rise every morning and rush to the Knesset with joy to see some of you here who spread hate and racism against us?"

Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky welcomes the bill’s approval but added, “Unfortunately, ahead of the vote, many MKs who are not committee members came to thwart the vote. This behavior shames the Knesset,” Slomiansky said.

“We should call it by name — it’s the assassination bill,” said MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union). “It shoots down Knesset members who don’t agree with their opinion and terminates them politically forever. Hatred of Arabs is blinding the MKs into passing a law that no attorney general supports. Blindness makes the coalition apathetic and indifferent to the severe harm done to democracy.

“Do you want this power in your hands, Nissan?” Swid asked Slomiansky. The day will come that it gets used against you. One day there will be a majority here who decides that anybody who does not condemn the hilltop youth and support the kingdom of Israel is subverting the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. What will you do on that day?”

Swid says she doesn’t want people who undermine Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, incite to racism and support terror organizations serving in the Knesset. “But the decision to oust should be made by the Supreme Court, not elected officials.”

MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) called the vote a “low point in the history of the Knesset and the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. “The prime minister wants Israel’s Arab citizens not to vote, so he can assure his majority to continue ruling. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s message to Arab citizens: If your Knesset members annoy the Jews, we’ll kick them out. You have no chance of having influence here.”