Israeli Arab Lawmakers Slam 'Racist' Law Allowing Ouster of Legislators

On Thursday a petition was also filed with the High Court of Justice challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

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Israeli Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ), Hanna Swaid (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad), July 20, 2011.
Israeli Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ), Hanna Swaid (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad), July 20, 2011.Credit: Emil Salman

The Joint List of Arab parties has issued an open letter denouncing a new law that enables the ouster of sitting Knesset members, charging that it aims to undermine the Arab community’s political representation. In a related development, a petition was filed with the High Court of Justice on Thursday seeking to have the law struck down as unconstitutional.

The law, which passed its final reading overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, permits the Knesset to oust a lawmaker for incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against the state. The expulsion requires a majority of 90 lawmakers, while launching the initial expulsion proceedings requires the support of 70 of the Knesset's 120 members, including 10 from the opposition.

“The goal of this racist law is to harm the political representation of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens,” the Joint List said in the letter. It called the law another element of “the apartheid regime that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is building,” charging that “Netanyahu and his government want a Knesset without Arabs.”

According to Joint List, the law undermines fundamental rights including the right to be elected, the right to political representation, the right to political activity and freedom of expression. Moreover, the law deals a major blow to parliamentary immunity and the fundamentals of the parliamentary system, it said.

“It’s crazy to allow elected members of parliament to oust other members of parliament because of their political positions,” Joint List said. “The real meaning of this law is that a Knesset member’s freedom of expression will be more restricted than that of an ordinary citizen, in diametric opposition to the logic of [parliamentary] immunity.”

The Joint List said it would seek to get the law overturned, including by “asking the Inter-Parliamentary Union to pressure the Knesset and the government and to protect the Arab community’s representatives against political persecution by the Knesset’s automatic majority.” It also urged the Israeli public to oppose the law.

The high court petition challenging the law was filed by lawyer Shachar Ben-Meir, who specializes in class action cases and other petitions involving the public interest. The Joint List is expected to join the petition on the Knesset member ouster law. The petition asserts that the most major flaw in the law is that it violates the separation of powers by giving the legislature powers that belong to the judicial branch.

President Reuven Rivlin also spoke out against the law, saying he saw no need for it. Speaking at a conference at the President’s Residence, he noted that the Knesset can also oust a sitting president by a vote of 90 of its 120 MKs. Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between ousting the president, who is elected by the Knesset, and ousting an MK elected by the public, he said.

“My friends have asked: If it’s possible to oust a president with a majority of 90 Knesset members, why can’t we oust a single Knesset member with 90 votes?” Rivlin said. “I’ve told them: You’re the ones who elected the president, but Knesset members were elected by people who thought that you, for instance, are the ones who shouldn’t be in the Knesset.”

“This is fundamental for the existence of a democracy,” he added. Noting that the law already allows the disqualification of an MK who supports terror, and that the attorney general could put such an MK on trial, he concluded: “We already have excellent laws.”

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