Knesset Debates Controversial Bill to Kick Out MKs

Proposal to allow indefinite suspension of a Knesset member for racism has no parallel in 19 Western countries, research indicates.

MK Uri Maklev speaking in the Knesset, March 7, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debated a bill Tuesday that would let the Knesset suspend indefinitely MKs for arguing against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting to racism or supporting an armed struggle against Israel.

Such a suspension would require the support of 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members, so both coalition and opposition MKs say such a law would have a hard time being implemented.

MK Benny Begin (Likud) proposed that the wording read “oust” and not “suspend” so that MKs would take the controversial bill seriously. He also proposed that a final vote be held secretly to allow MKs to vote their conscience.

MK Osama Saadia (Joint List) criticized the “unconstitutional and undemocratic bill intended to shut the mouths of and politically persecute Arab MKs. If the law had been in force during the Marmara [flotilla incident of 2010] or when Arab MKs met with the parents of terror-attack perpetrators, you would have ousted those MKs immediately.”

As he put it, “Lo and behold, in both cases the attorney general investigated and closed the cases. What will you say after you’ve made yourself the hangman after carrying out a sentence on the gallows?”

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) also expressed opposition to the bill, also referred to as the Suspension Bill. “It would have been much more proper to legislate a law that would set norms for everyone; teachers as well as MKs,” he said.

“There are subjects meant for debate in the Ethics Committee. It’s unimportant if we change the rationale or raise the number of MKs required to support a motion; this bill damages the Knesset and its members. However, I firmly oppose extremist expressions and acts.”

His remarks drew support from MKs Zehava Galon (Meretz), Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) and Saadi.

According to a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, none of the 19 countries that the center checked had a similar law empowering a legislature to suspend a member for ideological reasons. The survey, which included the United States and European countries, found that parliamentarians had no authority in most countries to suspend their colleagues.

In some countries, such authority exists for unbecoming behavior or insulting the parliament. In Australia,  a law that allowed ousting parliamentarians was repealed 30 years ago amid concerns that it would be exploited for political purposes.

The report was commissioned by the chairman of the constitution committee, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi).

A few days ahead of the Knesset’s summer recess, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed the bill. “This bill is supposed to act to suspend from the Knesset those MKs who stand alongside terror,” he said. “I expect all those who say they are for the bill to vote for it.”