Bill to Suspend Legislators Is the Suspension of Israeli Democracy

The bill, which targets Arab lawmakers, is another link in the chain of legislation that reflects a narrow and feeble concept of democracy as majority rule and nothing more.

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MK Haneen Zoabi being removed from the Knesset after shouting out during Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in 2011.
MK Haneen Zoabi being removed from the Knesset after shouting out during Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in 2011.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

President Reuven Rivlin has once again proved himself a defender of democracy, which is under assault by the cabinet. Rivlin was right when he said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “suspension bill” – which would allow the suspension of Knesset members for certain extremist conduct – betrays a lack of understanding of parliamentary democracy.

Another version of that bill is now being labored over by the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi). The bill is another link in the chain of legislation that reflects a narrow and feeble concept of democracy as majority rule and nothing more.

The amendment to clause 7a that Netanyahu wants to advance is particularly dangerous because it seeks to give the Knesset the authority to sit in judgment and mete out punishment for acts that are essentially criminal offenses.

“We must not let the Knesset, as a legislative and supervisory authority, turn into an investigative and punitive body,” Rivlin said. “Such a situation will go astray and cause substantial long-term damage, and the only thing that will be hurt will be the State of Israel.”

The new version of the bill crafted by Slomiansky would expand the circumstances under which a Knesset party or candidate could be ousted, allowing the exclusion of anyone who supported an armed struggle against Israel (even if in word only).

But the worst clause is one already in the Netanyahu version: the possibility of suspending a Knesset member until the end of a term (for all intents and purposes, an ouster) via the support of 90 of the 120 MKs for an infraction of any condition in clause 7a. Those infractions include opposition to the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism or support for an armed struggle against Israel.

Actually, the criminal code is the way to deal with expressions of support for terror or racism. The Knesset is a political body without legal expertise. It has no way to investigate, hear or evaluate evidence.

Meanwhile, its members are in an inherent conflict of interest. They are subject to political and electoral considerations. Some of them declared even before their election to the Knesset that they sought to fight, for example, certain Arab MKs. How can they judge or “decide” in good faith whether a condition for disqualification has been met?

With this bill, the Knesset seeks to create a track that bypasses the attorney general, the police, criminal prosecution and the courts – the bodies tasked with determining whether the crime of support for terror has been committed (which is not covered by parliamentary immunity). And in any case, a conviction with moral turpitude for such a crime would trigger a ban from the Knesset.

Even if such an amendment were difficult to apply, and 90 lawmakers hard to muster, passing it would add fuel to the fire of conflict between Israel’s Jews and Arabs. Thus MKs could accuse Arab MKs of treason and collusion with terror, repeatedly launching disqualification proceedings that would lead to a permanent witch hunt. We should listen to the president and forget about this unacceptable amendment.

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