The Racist's Best Friend

Kahanist MKs and parliamentary aides learned how to walk the thin line between what is permitted and what is not.

Will it be possible to limit the activities of Knesset member-elect Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) if he takes racist, Kahanist positions?

When the 11th Knesset (1984-1988) tried to impose restrictions on on Ben-Ari's leader, Rabbi Meir Kahane, the High Court of Justice thwarted a large part of them. For example, the Knesset tried to prevent Kahane from submitting no-confidence motions on the grounds that he was a one-man faction. The High Court ruled that the Knesset was not entitled to deny a faction the right to try to topple the government. The Israel Broadcasting Authority decided to broadcast items about Kahane only when they had clear news value, to prevent him from using the airwaves for propaganda purposes. The High Court ruled that freedom of speech includes "freedom of racist speech."

Veteran Knesset members agree that it will be difficult to prevent the appointment of Baruch Marzel, who was secretary of Kahane's Kach faction in the Knesset, and Itamar Ben Gvir as Ben-Ari's parliamentary aides only because of their criminal records. Perhaps the Knesset officer will delay their permanent entry permits and authorization to park inside the building. An opinion from the security authorities, if there is one, could change the picture.

Former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), who is considered a candidate for the position in the current Knesset as well, says: "If there is a reason that necessitates preventing the appointment of parliamentary aides, the Knesset speaker can exercise his authority."

What is unique to the Knesset is that everyone is within touching distance of everyone else, including the prime minister and top cabinet ministers. The Knesset guard is not particularly worried about Ben Gvir and Marzel, and believe that the two know how to walk the thin line. However, they are worried about their guests - Kahanists who do not know the thin line and are liable to rampage.

In 2005 Rivlin prohibited Davidi Hermlin, parliamentary aide to then-MK Naomi Blumenthal (Likud), from entering the building after Hermlin dyed his hair orange in solidarity with the struggle against the disengagement from Gaza. The Knesset argued that there is a prohibition in the building on demonstrations and provocations. Hermlin argued that this was a non-violent protest. The Labor Court ruled in Hermlin's favor.

Most of the conflicts in the past between Ben-Ari and the police had to do with visiting the Temple Mount. As a Knesset member, his entry into the Temple Mount compound will be more provocative. In the past the Knesset plenum decided to restrict the freedom of movement that afforded immunity to Kahane, but it is doubtful that the right-wing Knesset that was elected this time will repeat such a decision. If it does, it is doubtful that the High Court will uphold it.

This does not mean that a Knesset member's freedom of action is unlimited. The Knesset's regulations state that the presidium (the Knesset speaker and his deputies) "will not approve a law that is, in its opinion, racist in essence." This rule was established after Kahane submitted proposals for legislation that would establish that Arabs cannot be citizens of Israel and impose a prohibition on sexual relations between Jews and Arabs.

And what if harsh and even violent confrontations develop between Ben-Ari or Yisrael Beiteinu people and Arab Knesset members? The Knesset Ethics Committee has the authority to punish a Knesset member by banning him from sessions, and can also deny him the right to submit proposals for legislation for a defined period (but cannot limit his participation in votes). The outgoing Knesset Ethics Committee made little use of this authority. The next Knesset Ethics Committee can expect much harder work, and it is recommended that the next Knesset speaker appoints a tough committee.