The Knesset Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Play the Role of Judge, Too

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Balad MK Haneen Zoabi. Some MKs have set their sights on her.Credit: Knesset Channel

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss a proposal to amend the Basic Law on the Knesset. The bill would allow for the removal of a Knesset member if 61 of the 120 MKs voted so. The Knesset would have to furnish proof that the MK in question had voiced support for an armed struggle against Israel during a war or any military operation.

In practice, the bill, introduced during the Gaza war last summer, aims to address controversial statements by Arab MKs, particularly MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad). For her statement in June that the kidnappers of three Jewish teens in the West Bank were not terrorists, among other comments, she has already received the rare punishment of not being allowed to address the Knesset and its committee for six months.

Beyond the implications for freedom of expression, the bill includes many errors that breach the principles of democratic government. The proposal is designed to turn the Knesset into an investigative, prosecutorial, judicial and executive body, even though it’s a purely political body lacking the tools to determine facts and implement legal rules.

The bill thus is different from the process of banning political parties or candidates before an election, where a court is involved. And this applies to potential candidates, not MKs who were elected to represent the people.

In addition, last summer proved that some MKs are incapable of objectively judging others; after all, some are constantly calling Zoabi a traitor and a terrorist. What legal value would their predictable decision have?

The only way to address suspicions of support for terror or aid to the enemy during wartime is a criminal trial with an independent prosecution, adequate evidence and a judicial ruling. This process is strict enough; in such a criminal process an MK does not enjoy parliamentary immunity, and a conviction is usually accompanied by a ruling of moral turpitude — a result that ends an MK's term.

In Israel, where the Arab minority suffers from discrimination and a feeling of exclusion, the new bill could alienate the Arabs and their representatives from politics. A situation in which the Arabs do not play a role in Israeli politics would badly impair democracy, of which the representation of minorities and the protection of their rights is a core principle. The ministerial committee should therefore reject this dangerous bill and not grant judicial authority to a political body such as the Knesset.

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