Bill Targeting Israeli Arab Lawmakers for Suspension Has Full 'Coalition Support,' Netanyahu Says

'Democracy must defend itself,' prime minister says after Constitution, Law and Justice Committee suspends planned meeting on controversial legislation.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany. February 16, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany. February 16, 2016.Credit: Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to advance a bill that would allow the suspension of Knesset members for certain extremist conduct specified in the bill. "There is a difference between democracy and anarchy," the Israeli premier said, adding that the bill would enjoy the full support of Israel's ruling coalition.

The legislation initiative came in response to a visit paid by Israeli Arab MKs Jamal Zakalka, Basel Ghattas and Haneen Zoabi, from the Joint Arab List's Balad faction, to the families of Jerusalem terrorists who were killed while carrying out attacks. The visit was part of a campaign being conducted by the families and human rights groups seeking the return of the assailants' bodies to their families. During the meeting, the MKs joined the families' representatives in observing a moment of silence.

Netanyahu intervened on Tuesday to secure the start of the debate on the bill after the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee suspended a planned meeting on the controversial legislation.

"Democracy must defend itself" against attempts to take advantage of its institutions to undermine it, Netanyahu said in the course of a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding that he hopes opposition lawmakers also support the bill.

MKs Basel Ghattas, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zakalka from the Joint Arab List's Balad faction.Credit: Noam Moskowitz

Netanyahu arrived in the German capital Monday evening in the company of several other members of his cabinet, including Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who is also promoting passage of the bill.

Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) announced in the morning that the scheduled debate on on the so-called Suspension Bill, which is an amendment to the Basic Law: Knesset, would be postponed until Netanyahu’s return from his two-day trip in Germany this week, and until the Likud leadership takes a clear stand on the issue.

However, the prime minister called Slomiansky and told him that every Likud MK without exception, as well as the other coalition members, will support the proposed legislation. Likewise, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also announced that he supports the current version of the bill.

The original draft of the law stated that, if there is a "super-majority" of 90 MKs in favor, the Knesset would be allowed to suspend any MK who publicly supports a terrorist organization or enemy state. The newer, stricter version of the bill, formulated this week by Slomiansky, would empower the parliament, with the same majority, to suspend any MK who expresses support for a so-called lone wolf terrorist (such as those individuals perpetrating stabbing and other attacks on citizens in recent months).

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, in June. If the new bill “is legislated correctly there will be no blow to democracy but even an improvement in democracy," he said.Credit: Knesset Spokesman's Office

In an official announcement on Tuesday, Slomiansky pinned the debate’s postponement on an announcement by Edelstein that he would not allow the bill to move forward in the plenum. However, the Knesset speaker apparently never declared that he would halt progress on enacting the current version of the bill, but rather rejected the earlier version, now shelved, which among other things would have allowed suspension of a sitting MK for “behavior unbecoming the status of a Knesset member.”

For his part, Edelstein said on Tuesday on Israel Radio's Reshet Bet, that if the new bill “is legislated correctly there will be no blow to democracy but even an improvement in democracy." He described it as “reasonable draft legislation that will put an end to the situation in which the [Arab] MKs are saying openly, over the airwaves, at every opportunity, that they don’t recognize Israel and they support the terrorists.”

In reference to previous objections to various clauses in the proposed law, Edelstein added that “the devil is in the details, certainly in a draft bill — we have to place clear obstacles.” He reiterated that his opposition to the law in a video clip publicized Monday referred to its earlier version rather than the present one.

President Reuven Rivlin, himself a former Knesset speaker, roundly attacked the legislation on Monday evening, saying it represents “a problematic understanding of parliamentary democracy.” According to Rivlin, the proper authority for addressing MKs who ostensibly violate the law is the state attorney general – not Knesset members. He added, “For them, democracy is not anything but majority rule. Some of them believe this.”

The president remarked that Prime Minister Menachem Begin also grasped that such an understanding of democracy is not only too narrow, but dangerous – to the minority, to the opposition, to the individual, and ultimately to the country. "The ‘Suspension Bill’ being proposed is an example," said Rivlin, "of a problematic understanding of parliamentary democracy.”

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