Suspension Bill Marks Another Step in the Erosion of Israeli Democracy

Though the bill is worded neutrally, it is clearly directed against the Arab MKs, and thus serves to advance a tyranny of a Jewish majority.

Emil Salman

The amendment to the Basic Law: Knesset, known as the Suspension Bill, which passed its first reading two days ago, marks another step in the erosion of Israeli democracy on behalf of the tyranny of the Jewish majority. Although the bill is worded neutrally, it is clearly directed against the Arab MKs, particularly those of the Balad faction, as its timing indicates. The prime minister initiated the bill after Balad MKs met with the families of terrorists from East Jerusalem who were killed by the security forces and whose bodies were not returned.

According to the bill, the Knesset will be able, with a 90-member majority, to suspend serving MKs for a number of different reasons that at present may only be used to disqualify candidates prior to elections with the approval of the Supreme Court. The bill joins existing, and also problematic, legislation, that enables candidates and candidate lists to be disqualified for denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, for racist incitement and for support for the armed struggle of an enemy state or terror organization against Israel.

In a democratic country, the sole justification for disqualifying a candidate or candidate list is subversion of the democracy and its values. The expansions that have been made over the years to the disqualification section of the Basic Law: Knesset infringe upon the freedom of political expression for candidates and party lists that wish, for example, to voice a position that does not concur with the definition of the state as “Jewish.” The clause regarding support for armed struggle sounds logical on paper, but in effect its wording was directed against Arab MKs who expressed support for fighting the occupation.

Now the Knesset wants to go even further and give itself the power to remove MKs from its midst on the basis of these same pretexts. The Basic Law: Knesset already says that if an MK is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, his or her Knesset membership shall be immediately revoked. The new bill seeks to enable the removal of MKs not because they committed a criminal offense, but because of their political positions. This amounts to an infringement of the most basic principles of democracy: granting the majority the power to remove the representatives of the minority’s views, who in this case also happen to be members of the minority population.

The Knesset’s legal adviser has said that the bill does not violate the principle of equality in elections, as expressed in the Basic Law: Knesset, and therefore a majority of 61 MKs is not needed to approve it. This position is mistaken, since the bill does indeed negate the principle of equality: What is the difference between preventing a candidate from running and expelling him after his election? But even if the amendment were to pass with a majority of 61 MKs, it would still be an unconstitutional amendment that runs counter to the fundamental principles of democracy and is based upon a racist motivation. It must therefore be rejected.