Citizens Who Speak Out Against Israel as Jewish State Couldn't Be Lawmakers, New Bill Says

Knesset to vote on banning potential members who voice support for armed struggle by terrorist group or enemy state, deny Israel’s Jewishness or incite to racism.

The Knesset plenum, 2017.
Emil Salman

A bill that would disqualify Knesset candidates for statements made in favor of the armed struggle of a terror group or an enemy country was approved by a panel and would be sent for final votes.

The bill, okayed by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, would also disqualify candidates for inciting to racism or for negating the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The bill would be an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset, which already allows candidates to be disqualified for similar reasons – but for actions, not for statements.

However, the committee’s legal adviser, Gur Blay, told the committee that the Supreme Court in any case interprets the current law as if it also applies to statements, and the purpose of the amendment would be to “clarify and sharpen” the existing law. The court treats interpretation with regard to statements very cautiously, Blay said, “and demands that such statements be central, dominant, explicit and reiterated, and the amendment does not change this.”

Blay added that even if the amendment is limited in scope, “it amends a sensitive clause in a Basic Law that requires great caution in a democratic country because it involves limiting the right to elect and stand for election.”

MK Oded Forer (Habayit Hayehudi), who initiated the legislation, told the committee: “We have more than once seen MKs making statements against Israel and harming the security of the people, and it is from them that the right to be Knesset members the next time should be revoked.”

MK Osama Saadia (Joint List) said: “It has been said that there is no need for this law, so why the insistence? If this isn’t overlegislation, what is? It’s another law to impair basic freedom of expression and assembly, and MK Forer’s examples for justification of the law as a basis to disqualify a candidate only prove this.”

The chairman of the meeting, MK Benny Begin (Likud), said he would not have initiated such legislation, but asked the participants “not to exaggerate the law’s significance and harshness.”

MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said: “When you put the word ‘statements’ into the law I don’t know what interpretations will be given to it in the future by the Central Elections Committee, which is the first to interpret. Many of our colleagues in the Knesset think that the state should be more Jewish or that the army is unnecessary. Should that be considered harmful to Israel as a democracy? Will a call against the occupation be interpreted this way?”

Citing several controversial recently passed laws, German added: “The accumulation and the trend to limit freedom of expression is very worrisome.”