Joint List Lawmakers Who Altered Official Oath Wording May Face Sanctions, Says Knesset Legal Adviser

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Balad Chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh in February
Balad Chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh in FebruaryCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Four Joint List lawmakers who staged a symbolic protest at Tuesday's Knesset swearing-in ceremony by changing the wording of the official oath of office may face sanctions, including revocation of privileges and diminishment of pay, the Knesset's legal adviser said Thursday night.

When called on to state, "I swear," to the commitment to serve Israel and the Knesset, the lawmakers – members of the Hadash and Balad parties, which together with Ta'al, comprise the Joint List electoral alliance – added language that related to "racism," "the occupation," and the "nation-state law."

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In her decision, Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afek said that certain privileges may be taken from Knesset members who did not recite the oath of office as required by law. However, she also called on Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) to give the lawmakers the opportunity to accurately recite the oath at the next Knesset session and added that for now, the lawmakers should not lose their immunity from criminal prosecution or their right to vote in the Knesset.

In the wake of Afek’s statement, Knesset comptroller Haim Avidor sent letters to the four Joint List lawmakers, warning them that until they recite the official oath, the Knesset will reduce their compensation packages by deducting coverage for various expenses, such as legal, communications, travel and lodging expenses.

At Tuesday's inaugural session of Israel's 24th Knesset, each lawmaker was called on to say "I swear," in response to the oath of office which, as mandated by Article 15 of the Basic Law on the Knesset, reads: “I pledge myself to bear allegiance to the State of Israel and faithfully to discharge my mandate in the Knesset.”

Balad Chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh was the first to deviate from the official wording, when he substituted "I swear" with “I pledge to continue the struggle for democracy, justice and equality on behalf of all the country’s citizens.” Lawmakers Ofer Cassif, Ayman Odeh and Aida Touma-Sliman followed suit, each with their own versions. Cassif said: “I pledge to fight against racism and racists;” Odeh said: “I pledge to fight against the nation-state law;” and Touma-Sliman vowed “to fight the occupation.”

Lawmakers of the United Arab List party led by Mansour Abbas stuck to the official wording when committing to the oath.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on TuesdayCredit: Alex Kolomoisky / Reuters

Afek said that during the swearing-in ceremony, she had warned Abu Shehadeh that if he did not adhere to the official wording, he would not be considered to have taken the oath. When the other three lawmakers also changed the wording, Levin told them their oaths were not valid because they did not meet the requirements of the law.

One of the four Joint List lawmakers told Haaretz that he and his party colleagues intend to pledge their allegiance in accordance with the official wording as soon as possible and suggested that the Knesset speaker is causing undue delays. “We would have done it and already fixed it at the opening session. Yariv Levin is dragging out the decision as to when the session will be held for political motives, to make headlines at our expense.”

For so long as they refuse to recite the official oath to the letter, the lawmakers stand to lose their salaries and significant salary benefits, including coverage for an extensive list of out-of-pocket expenses and allowances, such as legal fees, phone and internet payments, newspaper subscriptions, foreign parliamentary business-related travel and lodging expenses, as well as rent, clothing and other allowances, including cars leased for them by the Knesset.

The Knesset may also cut contributions made to each of the lawmakers' respective continuing education funds (keren hishtalmut), annual budgetary and financing allocations for their parliamentary activities, respective aides and advisors, as well as rescind coverage for foreign language and weapons training courses, special periodic medical exams and personal financial advice.

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