The Knesset Ethics Committee rejected on Monday citizen complaints regarding MKs who use inflammatory speech against African migrants. The committee, chaired by Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin, ruled that the MKs’ freedom of speech outweighed any harm that arose from the statements.
The issue came to a head in May as violence flared between South Tel Aviv residents and the large population of African migrants residing there, after a series of statements by politicians calling for the migrants’ expulsion.
Listed in the complaint were MKs Miri Regev (Likud), who said in May that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”; Danny Danon (Likud), who said that “Israel is at war, and she has an enemy state of infiltrators in south Tel Aviv”; Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who called migrants “rapists and harassers”; and Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich (Kadima), who called for the human rights activists aiding migrants to be forcibly rounded up into detention camps.
Although the committee recognized that protesters who listened to these MKs’ speeches subsequently turned to violence, and described the statements as “difficult, harsh and outrageous,” it chose to uphold the legislators’ right to free speech.
The committee cited the need for MKs to be able to express themselves freely on issues that are in the public agenda, and noted that freedom of speech has never been curtailed for Knesset members, even for issues that are painful or controversial.
The committee noted, however, that “severe and extreme expressions on the part of elected officials erode the public’s confidence and diminish the dignity of the Knesset, and may even bring a flush of passion and violence in extreme cases.”
Ben-Ari said in response to the decision that he would continue to call for the transfer of migrants to Sudan. “The left must realize that freedom of speech is not reserved only for statements against the state or for the enemies of Israel, but also for those who wish to save the country.”