Bill Would Let Israeli Lawmakers Oust Colleagues, Not Just Suspend

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MK Nissan Slomiansky with an aide at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, December 18, 2014Credit: Emil Salman

Lawyers for the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee have crafted a bill that would let MKs oust their colleagues for incitement to racism or supporting an armed struggle against Israel, not just suspend them temporarily.

An earlier version of the bill would allow for the temporary suspension of MKs. The lawyers behind the new version hope legislators will opt for ousters until the remainder of a Knesset term.

Either way, the new version removes as grounds for an ouster arguing against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. The lawyers say the murkiness of this charge would make it difficult to implement.

In the new version, however, 75 of the Knesset’s 120 members must agree to launch proceedings for a suspension or ouster, at least five of them from the opposition.

The original bill cited 61 MKs. Knesset sources say the 75-member hurdle would prevent the removal of colleagues for political or personal reasons.

“The law should have a structure acknowledging MKs’ weakness as judges and demand an especially large majority,” the legal team said.

In a position paper, the lawyers say a move to suspend or oust would be based on extreme grounds and repeat malfeasance. “Its use should be very rare,” they added in a letter to the committee.

The lawyers have also asked the committee to decide whether votes will be open or secret.

In both versions of the bill, 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members is necessary for an ouster, even greater than the 75 for launching proceedings.

The committee's chairman, MK Nissam Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi), has yet to state whether the changes will be adopted.

MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) opposes both versions of the bill. “Cosmetic changes can’t conceal the fact that the law has one clear goal: to expel and silence minorities in the Knesset,” she said.

She accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition of being “blinded by hatred of Arabs. It’s a law to shut people up, a targeted assassination that will enable liquidations on a political basis. MKs can’t oust other MKs. That power belongs to the courts.”

Amir Fuchs of the Israeli Democracy Institute said the bill would make it very difficult to oust MKs who express support for Jewish terrorism, compared with MKs who express support for Palestinian terrorism, because the bill stipulates terror by an enemy nation.

Slomiansky disagreed. “Saying the law applies only to Arabs is wrong,” he said. “Any MK who takes the oath undertakes not to support terrorism, so there is no reason for the law not to apply to him.”

According to a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, none of the 19 countries that the center checked had a similar law empowering a legislature to suspend a member for ideological reasons.

The survey, which included the United States and European countries, found that parliamentarians had no authority in most countries to suspend their colleagues. In some countries, such authority exists for unbecoming behavior or insulting the parliament.

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