Justice minister, ultra-Orthodox balk as MK suspension bill races ahead

Shaked says measure ‘not the solution’; UTJ demands booting of legislators who deny Israel is Jewish and democratic, incite, or support terror

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

MK Hanin Zoabi speaks to the press on February 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
MK Hanin Zoabi speaks to the press on February 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged the government to scrap and replace a bill that would suspend sitting lawmakers for “unseemly behavior,” while the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party demanded the government revise the controversial bill amid fears its party members could be caught in the dragnet.

Shaked said the bill was “not the solution,” the Walla news website reported.

While saying she agreed with the measure in principle, Shaked suggested that the government disqualify factions rather than individual lawmakers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the initiative earlier this week in response to a controversial meeting last week between three Arab Knesset members from the Balad party and family members of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis.

If passed, the legislation would require the support of 90 MKs to boot a lawmaker.

Shaked maintained the existing Basic Law on the Knesset was sufficient to disqualify the Balad party list. Under clause 7A, lawmakers and factions are barred from participating in elections if they are guilty of the “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism; support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”

“It’s not that I’m opposed to the suspension bill, but it isn’t the real solution, which is to bring enough facts to show that Balad does not comply with clause 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset,” she said, according to Walla. “And the proposed solution that a Knesset member whose behavior is unseemly be suspended is wrong.”

Although the coalition on Monday approved the bill, the Haredi UTJ party asked that the bill be amended to strike the general “bad behavior” clause and replace it with denial of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racist attacks, or support for terrorism or an enemy state.

The list of proposed amendments was published by the Behadrei Haredim website in a letter dated Tuesday from UTJ MK Eliezer Mozes to Diaspora Minister Zeev Elkin, who drafted the proposal.

An unnamed ultra-Orthodox lawmaker told the news site that the party feared the bill, in its current formulation, could be turned on the Haredi MKs.

“We won’t take part in suspending Knesset members like Oren Hazan,” an unnamed UTJ lawmaker told the website, referring to the scandal-prone Likud MK. “Down the road, it could also lead to the possibility of ousting a Haredi MK.”

The UTJ changes would put the law in line with an existing law that calls for disqualification of lawmakers who deny the state’s Jewish and democratic character.

Shaked herself could have found herself on the wrong side of the bill after she met with relatives of a Jewish terror suspect being held in connection with the fatal Duma firebombing, according to the Forward newspaper.

United Torah Judaism MKs Menahem Mozes (left) and Moshe Gafni (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MKs Menahem Mozes (left) and Moshe Gafni (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The coalition was seeking to expedite the legislation, with a committee scheduled to debate the measure on Wednesday and a first reading for the bill expected in as little as two weeks, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday.

The Haaretz report indicated that Elkin was set to revise the bill in line with UTJ’s proposed amendments.

The length of suspension for lawmakers will be determined by the Knesset House Committee, the report said. Once a Knesset member is ousted, the next person on the party’s slate will enter parliament to replace the suspended lawmaker.

Analysts said the bill, which must now make its way through a series of Knesset readings, might pass, but that it would prove unimplementable in the current parliament, in which Netanyahu’s coalition numbers just 61 MKs. Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Joint (Arab) List opposition parties oppose it, as do some members of the coalition.

On Monday, the Knesset Ethics Committee banned three Arab MKs from parliamentary activity for several months following a controversial meeting they held last week with families of terrorists killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis. Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were banned for four months, and Jamal Zahalka for two months. All three are members of the Balad Party, which merged into the Joint (Arab) List before last year’s parliamentary election.

The Joint List has called the bill a form of “demonization and delegitimization” of the Arab community in Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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