Israeli Lawmakers Soften Bill Allowing Suspension of Colleagues

A larger majority and opposition support would be required to launch proceedings, making such moves – which Arab legislators call McCarthyism – less likely.

The Knesset in Jerusalem, May 2016.
Emil Salman

A bill that would suspend Knesset members for “unbecoming behavior” has been altered in committee to make it much harder to launch suspension proceedings, even if MKs could be ousted for an entire Knesset term.

Sources in the governing coalition said the changes basically made the bill impossible to apply, rendering the legislation pointless.

The new version is due to be brought to the full Knesset for final approval next Tuesday. The opposition plans to vote against it.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee made three major changes to the bill, all of which are intended to make it harder to suspend legislators. The changes were proposed by MK Benny Begin (Likud) and opposition colleagues.

A suspended MK would be out for an entire Knesset term, while suspension proceedings would not begin while an election campaign was underway.

Third, a launch of suspension proceedings would require the support of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition, whereas the original bill had mandated support from only 61 MKs, with no opposition support required.

Given that any governing coalition includes at least 61 of the 120 MKs, the original version would effectively have let the coalition begin suspension proceedings against anyone it pleased.

Daniel Bar-On

Eliminating the possibility of suspending an MK for anything less than the rest of the term would also significantly reduce the use of this tool, the committee’s legal adviser said, adding that there would now be fewer suspension attempts for petty reasons.

Knesset members say that simply launching suspension proceedings would be enough to impair an MK’s ability to function; he would have to devote his time to fighting the proceedings and clearing his name.

Finally, prohibiting the start of suspension proceedings during a campaign would eliminate the temptation to gain headlines by taking action against an unpopular MK.

The altered bill, like the original, still requires a majority of 90 MKs – three quarters of the Knesset – to approve a suspension. A suspended MK would be replaced by the next person on his party’s ticket.

Begin was the only coalition member to take an active role in the committee’s discussions aside from its chairman, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi).

Still, the changes didn’t satisfy the opposition. MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) assailed Slomiansky during Tuesday’s hearing, saying “the stench of the McCarthyism you’re leading is causing headaches, nausea and revulsion. I don’t know if every day, after you’ve managed to pass a bill, you feel good. I don’t know if you sleep well. I think you hate leftists no less than you hate Arabs.”

In an unusual move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed hard for the bill’s approval. “This bill is meant to work to suspend from the Knesset MKs who position themselves in favor of terror,” he told a meeting of Likud lawmakers. “I expect everyone who has said he’s in favor of the law to vote for it.”

The bill passed its first Knesset reading in March by a 59-53 vote after two Likud MKs skipped the vote in protest and Yisrael Beiteinu’s six MKs did not show up.