The Knesset on Tuesday approved a law that will allow 90 of the 120 lawmakers to remove their colleagues from office, after a lengthy, heated battle in parliament. MKs can now move to oust colleagues who back armed struggle against Israel or incite racial hatred.
The bill passed into law with the support of 62 Knesset members. Forty seven lawmakers voted against.
Opposition MKs had submitted hundreds of objections to the bill that were set to be discussed into the night, but withdrew them suddenly when it appeared that the coalition, with a majority of 66 MKs, might not have enough lawmakers present Tuesday night to pass the vote, and demanded that the vote be held immediately.
But the coalition successfully stalled the vote until enough of its lawmakers had arrived to ensure a majority.
Among other tactics used by coalition lawmakers, Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin stood at the plenum and repeated the phrase: “Today, it’s become clear that the Labor party and Yesh Atid work for [Joint List MK] Hanin Zoabi. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” He did so until a sufficient amount of MKs from the coalition arrived.
The bill, originally known as the MK suspension bill, was proposed after three Arab MKs, including Zoabi, paid a condolence visit in February to the families of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis. The three reportedly observed a moment of silence during the visit — they denied it — which some said was tantamount to showing support for terror.
The three lawmakers were suspended on February 8 by the Knesset Ethics Committee — Zoabi and Basel Ghattas for four months, and Jamal Zahalka for two.
The legislation was largely seen as a way to remove Zoabi — a firebrand lawmaker who recently called IDF soldiers “murderers” — from office, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting last month that “she crossed every line” and there was “no room” from her in parliament.
According to the final version of the bill, 70 Knesset members — 10 of whom must be from the opposition — may file a complaint with the Knesset speaker against any lawmaker who supports armed struggle against Israel or incites to racial hatred, kicking off the impeachment process.
The Knesset House Committee would then debate the complaint before clearing it with a three-quarter majority in the committee. The motion to dismiss the lawmaker would then be sent to the plenum, where, if 90 of the 120 Knesset members vote in favor, the MK would be ousted. The deposed lawmaker could then appeal the decision with the Supreme Court.
Under the terms of the law, Knesset members cannot be removed from office during an election period.
Netanyahu praised the vote Tuesday night, saying it “put an end to the absurd.”
“Those who support terrorism against Israel and its citizens will not serve in the Israeli Knesset,” said the prime minister.
The chairman of the coalition, MK David Bitan, also welcomed the passing of the law, saying it would serve as a warning “to those who think they can take advantage of Israeli democracy to undermine the State of Israel.”
The approval of the law was slammed by opposition lawmakers, with Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon calling the vote “one of the most embarrassing episodes in the Knesset,” and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai saying that “history will not forgive those who had a hand in this.”
Joint List MK Dov Khenin said the vote was “an anti-democratic move by an anti-democratic government.”
“This expulsion law marks the end of Israeli democracy,” declared Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson.
The bill had also seen some internal coalition opposition, as well as criticism by President Reuven Rivlin, who warned in February that the power to punish lawmakers should not be in the hands of fellow Knesset members.
Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh had threatened to quit the Knesset if the bill was signed into law.