Israeli Lawmakers to Push Raft of Rightist Laws: Annexing Settlements and Muzzling Supreme Court

Nationalist MKs have staked out six areas for their main legislative efforts in the present Knesset term.

MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset, December 2016.
Emil Salman

The feeling in the air of new elections coming, along with a firm right-wing majority in the Knesset, is leading government coalition MKs to try to achieve everything they can when the Knesset returns from its Passover recess in six weeks. Coalition MKs will flood the house with controversial bills pushing the right’s agenda.

Nationalist MKs have staked out six areas for their main legislative efforts in the present Knesset term: Acting against supporters of boycotting the settlements, restricting organizations identified with the left, legislation against the Israeli Arab community, far-reaching changes in the media sector, laws constraining the Supreme Court and the annexation of the West Bank settlement Ma’aleh Adumim.

The main effort will focus on attempts to annex the West Bank, or parts of it, and place it under Israeli law. The proposed law to annex Ma’aleh Adumim may have been temporarily blocked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) intend on bringing a new initiative to make Jerusalem an “umbrella municipality” and to annex the West Bank’s Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Efrat and Beitar Illit to the capital.

In addition to annexation, this bill is intended to enrich Jerusalem, many of whose prosperous Jewish residents have been leaving the economically struggling city. A number of senior ministers may join in to promote this bill.

Another proposal, sponsored by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) along with coalition whip MK David Bitan (Likud), calls to rescind the law on the disengagement of 2005 and allow Jews to return to live in the four small settlements evacuated in the northern West Bank at the time.

After passing the legislation against BDS supporters and left-wing organizations, the attorney general is expected to find himself a target too: A new bill sponsored by Smotrich, a member of the same party as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, calls to ban the attorney general from publically expressing an opinion that contradicts the position of the cabinet and its ministers. The bill is intended to prevent situations such as the release of a legal opinion by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit against the “expropriation law,” which will harm the government’s chances of receiving approval for the law from the High Court of Justice.

Another bill expected to come up for a vote would also forbid the attorney general from publically expressing a legal opinion against the position of the government coalition. Another bill on the agenda, sponsored by 16 MKs, would prevent the Supreme Court from ruling laws to be unconstitutional, and only allow the court to warn of a contradiction between a new law and existing laws; and a separate bill would end tax deductions for donations to institutions that accuse Israel of war crimes.

In the face of the broad legislative activities of right-wing MKs, the parliamentary opposition is much less aggressive: Zionist Union and Yesh Atid are constantly trying to lure center-right voters, and so are steering clear of legislative battles that could paint them as “leftists” – as supporters of boycotts and the Palestinians.

“More parties feel today that the winds of public opinion are blowing to the right and they do not want to stand against those winds,” says MK Dov Khenin (Joint List). “In the previous Knesset, when they passed the ‘Governability Law,’ the opposition put up a fight and held three days of alternative discussions. Today it happens less. True, the opposition had a nice achievement when all of them took a stand against the impeachment law, but a great number of times MKs in Yesh Atid and Zionist Union split up, support or are absent from votes on such laws,” he added.

The coalition has drawn encouragement from the passage a few weeks ago of the law allowing expropriation of privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank in return for compensation, in the face of Netanyahu’s opposition to the bill, and now hope they can pressure the prime minister to promote these bills. “If the law to extend sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim had been presented to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, it would have passed too,” said Kish, even though Netanyahu prevented such a vote. “The problem is the right timing on the part of [Netanyahu] and the U.S. administration.”

Some of these initiatives have already become law: In addition to the law on expropriation of private land, the law allowing the impeachment of a member of Knesset even if they have not been convicted of an offense against national security; the law imposing limitations and oversight on nonprofit organizations, usually affiliated with the left; the anti-BDS law allowing refusal of entry to the country for boycott supporters; the law forbidding discrimination against the residents of settlements in supplying goods and services; and the law preventing running for Knesset because of expressions “supporting terrorism” have all been passed already.

Kish denies that the coalition is promoting “anti-left” laws. “I don’t think the subject of the legislation is persecution of the left. I see it less in that way. We definitely are promoting laws identified with the right’s agenda, which in a different situation would have been difficult to pass and with this government is much easier.”