Despite Rightists' Concerns, Racism Clause to Remain in Bill to Suspend Israeli Arab MKs

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MK Haneen Zoabi being removed from the podium at the Knesset, February 8, 2016.
MK Haneen Zoabi being removed from the podium at the Knesset, February 8, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

Israeli lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss a new bill which will permit the Knesset to suspend lawmakers for improper behavior in a fiery session that ended in a shouting match after opposition MKs said the legislation only targets Israeli Arab lawmakers.

After Habayit Hayehudi proposed removing a section on incitement to racism from the bill, sources in the coalition clarified on Wednesday morning that the section will remain, despite concerns by the right wing party.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has called in the past to allow the removal of MKs based on the incitement to racism clause and proposed such a bill in the previous Knesset. Nonetheless, the initiative to remove this section, which could apply almost exclusivley to Joint Arab List legislators, is still on the table.

A meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in Jerusalem, January 4, 2016.Credit: Courtesy

The chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Nissan Slomiansky, tried to hold the first session Wednesday morning on the bill, which the committee is expected to formulate and push through.

Immigration Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promote the bill, sat next to Slomiansky during the meeting.

MK Tzipi Livni was furious. “If this is a proposed law of the committee, why is there cabinet supervision?” she asked Slomiansky, who responded: “I don’t take edits from either of them. I’m a big boy.”

“We will build the proposal together in the committee,” said Slomiansky. “Everything you have heard until now on the law, part of it will be and part won’t. This bill, if it has a majority, will be submitted to the Knesset.”

There were apprehensions in Likud about giving responsibility for the law to Slomiansky. Some preferred to send the bill to the House Committee, which is controlled by Likud, but they were unsuccessful. 

Slomiansky made it clear to the committee that he supports the bill in principle. “There are those who claim that it is not democratic to legislate this law. But the place of an MK who crosses the red line is not here, and someone else from the party will enter in his place,” he said.

Opposition MKs constantly confronted their coalition colleagues during the meeting, which was scheduled to take one hour. Time after time MKs Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Revital Swid (Zionist Union) were removed from the meeting. Rozin said Netanyahu was contemptuous of  democratic tools in targeting those who do not support the government. Swid demanded Slomiansky present MKs with a written version of the law, but there is still no such version.

“What principle do you want us to discuss?” asked Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union). “This law includes two words: ‘Arabs, Out.’”

Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) asked: “Perhaps you will propose we resign and that’s it?” 

The committee is expected to reconvene next week, by which time Slomiansky and the committee’s legal advisor may complete a new version of the bill and present it to MKs.

MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said the law to remove MKs through a vote of 90 other MKs in the end will go nowhere.

“What happened in the Law Committee today shows that no MK has anything to fear,” he said. “It seems it is impossible to create a consensus of 90 MKs on anything.”

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