Knesset Legal Adviser Contradicts Netanyahu: Other Democracies Don't Suspend Lawmakers on Ideological Grounds

Eyal Yinon says modified version of Suspension bill is substantially different than similar laws in other countries; Likud MKs Benny Begin, Yuli Edelstein also stress bill's problematic nature.

MK Nissan Slomiansky at a meeting of the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset members, February 23, 2016.
Emil Salman

Three key Knesset figures stressed the problematic nature of the so-called “Suspension Bill” on Tuesday, among them the Knesset legal adviser, who said that contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu's assertion, the bill differs substantially from other such laws around the world.

The bill, which was initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and drafted by MK Nissan Slomiansky, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, would enable the suspension of Knesset Members for activities of a non-criminal nature in certain circumstances.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon told the law committee that the version of the law initiated by Netanyahu differs substantially from other such laws around the world in that it would allow suspension on ideological grounds while all other such laws allow it on criminal grounds only.

While he didn’t mention Netanyahu by name, his words were a clear response to the prime minister’s claim on Monday that it was appropriate for Israel to have such a law because many other democracies did.

If mechanisms for the suspension of parliamentarians exist in Canada, the United States and Great Britain, Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset caucus on Monday, it is appropriate for Israel to do the same.

But Yinon said that the conclusions he drew from the laws in other countries were entirely different.

“The grounds for suspension are not ideological but those verging on the criminal, which in our case are taken care of by the automatic suspension mechanism,” Yinon said.

“There is the danger that Knesset members will achieve a special majority to suspend others on ideological grounds.” He added that “today all MKs commit themselves in their Knesset oath not to act in a manner contrary to what would be grounds for suspension under the new law.

Yinon clarified that it was not appropriate to base the law on misconduct by MKs, a proposal that was scrapped a few weeks ago. Such grounds are “obtuse,” he said. “Knesset members are by nature controversial and are not conventional figures.”

He called on the Knesset members not to restrict the basis of suspension to only “incitement to terror,” nor to scrap “incitement to racism” from the final version of the bill.

“I am concerned that it can be seen as a most problematic change from a legal standpoint,” he said.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who in an unusual move was present at the committee meeting, raised a string of problematic issues that could arise from the bill. He made it clear that he in principle supported a law that would provide for the suspension of MKs, but went on to take a complex position regarding the implications of the law for Israeli democracy.

“It would have been better had we never had this debate,” he said. “Will this legislation enable us to halt the slide to radicalism. Or will things improve it we simply wait? I don’t think things will get better if we wait.”

He said he hoped that the government would allow all members to vote their conscience when the bill came to a vote in the plenum. He also requested, as did the legal adviser, that the number of MKs necessary to begin the suspension process be raised from 61 to 70.

The third person to express doubts about the bill was MK Benny Begin (Likud). “I have a small disagreement with the legal adviser when he says that the law is problematic,” Begin said. “The law isn’t problematic – it is very problematic. Very, very problematic and it demands that we exercise great caution.”

Begin continued: “I reminded my Likud colleagues of the important fact that in the Fifties the majority suspended a parliamentarian named Menachem Begin for several months. Why? Because it could. It was a military administration of the leftist parties.”

He said the committee needed to “ask what damages the public trust in the Knesset more ... a harsh and problematic” bill like the one in question or the “things that are said and sometimes done in the Knesset that damage the confidence of the public.”

Recent changes made to the bill have improves it, he said, “but we will have to continue with great care.”