Bill Calls to Suspend Lawmakers From Knesset for Denying Israel as Jewish, Democratic State

New version of bill replaces 'unbecoming behavior' with three new criteria for suspension from Knesset to win support of the ultra-Orthodox UTJ faction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Feb. 8, 2016.
Reuters

The government is expected to present a new version of a bill allowing Knesset to suspend sitting lawmakers. The new version replaces the criterion for suspension from "behavior unbecoming a Knesset member" to one of three grounds: denying Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting to racism and supporting the armed struggle of terror organization or an enemy state.

The bill, in its new version, is expected to win the support of the United Torah Judaism faction, after its members earlier insisted that the criterion of "unbecoming behavior" would be changed to "support of terrorism."

The bill was agreed by the heads of the coalition parties on Sunday and approved formally on Monday.

According to the bill, which is essentially an amendment to a Basic Law, the Knesset can suspend one of its members with a majority of 90 votes. The new version of the bill, which is advanced by Minister Zeev Elki, was unprecedentedly formulated in 24 hours. As drafted by Elkin, suspension would be imposed after a complaint has been submitted to the House Committee by at least 61 members and approved by three-quarters of the committee's members. The committee will also set the duration of the suspension, which is not limited by the bill. During the course of the suspension, the MK will be replaced by the next in line on the party's Knesset list.

The three grounds for suspension listed in the new version are already detailed in the Basic Law, allowing the Central Election Committee to disqualify a candidate from running in a general election. Although the High Court of Justice repeatedly refused to approve the disqualification of candidates, Elkin believes that the proposed bill would be more effective, because unlike with decisions by members of an election committee, High Court judges would be more reluctant to overturn a decision supported by a majority of 90 MKs.

Ofer Vaknin

The bill has headed the public agenda since the meeting last week of three members of the Balad faction of the Joint List – Basel Ghattas, Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi – with families of slain terrorists from Jerusalem whose bodies are still being held by the Israeli authorities. Earlier on Monday, The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended three Arab lawmakers over their meeting with the families of slain Palestinian terrorists. 

The bill is precedent-setting in that it allows the Knesset to unseat a public representative for a period that the Knesset members themselves decide.

The coalition believes that the bill will be supported by a majority in the plenum, with the expected support of the MKs from Yisrael Beiteinu.

The Zionist Union and Yesh Atid have said that they will oppose the bill, as has MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi).

The meeting was criticized across much of the political spectrum.

Zionist Union MKs decided on Monday to submit a faction complaint against the three MKs to the Knesset Ethics Committee.

MK Yoav Kish (Likud) sent a letter on Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requesting that he prevent the participation of members of the Joint List in deliberations over the recently announced budgetary allocation for the Arab sector.