Habayit Hayehudi Backtracks, Will Support Knesset Suspension Bill

Right wing party demands 'incitement to racism' be replaced with 'incitement to terror' as grounds for suspension of an MK 'thereby making it applicable, in practice, only to Arab MKs.'

AFP

An hour after Habayit Hayehudi announced it would oppose a bill that would grant Knesset members the ability to suspend fellow lawmakers, party officials went back on their statements Tuesday, saying they would support the bill if its wording was changed, sources involved in the drafting process officials confirmed for Haaretz.

Habayit Hayehudi is seeking to alter the bill by eliminating "incitement to racism" as one of the grounds for the suspension of a lawmaker, and replacing it with incitement to terror, “thereby making it applicable, in practice, only to Arab MKs who voice support for terror,” according to a source involved in the law. 

The law hasn’t yet been fully drafted, but it will apparently allow a majority of 90 of the 120 Knesset members to suspend a fellow MK on any of the three grounds that currently disqualify candidates from running for Knesset to begin with: Rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting to racism, and supporting armed struggle against Israel by an enemy state or terrorist organization.

The suspended MK would be replaced by the next person on his party’s slate until his suspension ends and he returns to the Knesset.  If passed, the bill’s suspension mechanism is likely to be used mainly against Arab MKs.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi), will hold its first meeting on the bill Wednesday morning. The committee’s legal advisor, Sigal Kogut, has been charged with drafting the text, and is expected to have a version ready by the time the meeting begins.

“We want to propose that it clearly say ‘support for terrorist organizations or for undermining the basics of the state’s existence,’” said MK Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi). “Currently, the justice minister and Minister [Zeev] Elkin are working on the wording, and we hope the wording we’re interested in will be there, because it’s more correct.” 

Elkin, the immigrant absorption minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is seeking to enact the bill through a fast-track process.

The bill is the brainchild of Netanyahu, who demanded its passage after three MKs from the Balad party met with the families of Palestinian terrorists. His goal is to give the Knesset a new means of punishing its members by letting parliament oust an MK, either permanently or temporarily, under certain circumstances.

Earlier Tuesday, officials clarified they will support the proposal that is set to be discussed at the Knesset Constitution Committee on Wednesday in order to draft the bill "on a basis of agreement between all the coalition's factions."

"Habayit Hayehudi faction opposed the bill in its original form, that's why substantive work on the bill's new version will begin at the Constitution Committee tomorrow," Habayit Hayehudi said, adding that the bill "would be drafted and promoted on a basis of agreement between all the coalition's factions."

Earlier on Tuesday, the party announced that it wouldn't support the bill backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The coalition heads, including Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett, initially agreed to back the bill, in a discussion held after the cabinet's Sunday morning meeting, during which Netanyahu said that the three Arab lawmakers who visited terrorists' families and observed a moment of silence in their memory should not be members of the Knesset.

However, on Tuesday the Habayit Hayehudi lawmakers said that though they're in favor of disciplinary action against the Arab MKs, who were suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee the day before, they oppose the bill in its current form. 

"The principle that’s troubling for us is that the bill allows Knesset members to oust other MKs who were elected by the public," sources in the faction told Haaretz, adding that the decision to oppose the bill was made on Monday, after they were presented with the bill's language. 

In an irregular move, the committee, and not the government, which will submit the bill to the Knesset. The move was meant to expedite the legislative process by sidestepping any possible objections by the attorney general or government ministries. 

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, on the basis of 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.

As drafted by MK Ze'ev 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 bill 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.