Knesset panel head intends to discuss ousting Odeh after comments on Israeli-Arabs

House Committee head Nir Orbach of Yamina says he’ll convene panel to suspend Joint List MK Odeh, but still needs signatures from 70 MKs; suspension is a complex, unlikely process

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina MK Nir Orbach said on Tuesday that he would convene the Knesset House committee — which he heads — to discuss removing Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh from the Knesset, should legislators gather the required signatures to start the process.

Orbach spoke after Odeh on Sunday said Arab Israelis serving in the security forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “humiliating” their own people and called on them to throw down their weapons and quit.

The process for suspending a member of Knesset requires several steps, and it is highly unlikely that Odeh would be ousted. However, the announcement signals further tension within the coalition over the question of whether or not to solicit the Joint List’s cooperation in supporting the government from the outside, should the current lame-duck coalition hobble on.

A statement from Orbach’s office said that the House Committee chair would form a committee to discuss suspending Odeh from the Knesset, should Likud MK Shlomo Karhi succeed in his plans to produce a letter signed by 70 legislators.

“Ayman Odeh’s place is not in the Knesset. I’ll convene the committee shortly, according to procedures, in order to discuss MK Karhi’s request,” the House Committee chair said.

A spokesperson for Odeh declined to comment on Orbach’s announcement.

According to the hotly-debated 2016 “Suspension Law,” an update to the basic law undergirding the Knesset, legislators may expel colleagues from their ranks if they are found to have committed one of a number of infractions delineated in the basic law, including inciting race-based hatred and opposition to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The process requires submitting a letter signed by 70 Knesset members — including 10 who sit in the opposition — to the Knesset’s House Committee. Three-quarters of House Committee members must vote to advance the case to the plenum, where a super-majority vote of 90 legislators is needed to suspend a peer from their ranks.

The suspension can be for a designated period, up to the end of the Knesset’s term, creating an effective expulsion. Removed legislators would replaced by the next person on their party list.

To date, no member of Knesset has been sanctioned in this manner, according to Assaf Shapira, the head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s political reform project. Past members have been suspended through the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, a separate process.

“It’s never happened, and I don’t think it’s going to happen now,” Shapira said.

Orbach’s statement came days after Odeh recorded a Ramadan video message in which he slammed Arab Israelis who participate in the Israeli security apparatus.

“Young people must not join the occupation forces. I call on the young people who have already joined, who are no more than one percent, a total of a few thousand, whose joining is insulting and humiliating, I call on them — throw the weapons in their face and tell them that our place is not with you. We will not be part of the injustice and the crime,” he said in the video, recorded at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh speaks in a video in which he calls on Arab Israeli police officers to quit, saying they ‘humiliate’ their people, on April 10, 2022. (Screenshot/Facebook)

A spokesperson for Odeh later clarified that the lawmaker’s remarks referred exclusively to those serving in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as opposed to civilian police.

The video, recorded amid an ongoing wave of terror attacks, solicited condemnation from across the political spectrum. It came a day after Odeh seemed to soften his language around potentially cooperating with the ailing government, which lost its majority last week and is searching for ways to sustain itself.

Case-by-case cooperation with the Joint List has been floated by several members of the coalition, which would require legislative backing in order to advance its legislative agenda, as it currently sits in a 60-60 seat deadlock with the opposition.

Orbach, who last week issued an “ultimatum” to Yamina party head and prime minister Naftali Bennett on conditions for staying in the coalition, is considered a flight risk. Orbach’s demands to Bennett concern advancing pro-religious and pro-settler interests.

MK Nir Orbach attends the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The majority Arab Joint List party is stalwart in its support for a Palestinian national agenda, and has in the past been as reticent to support Israeli governments as ruling coalitions are to rely on the Joint List’s support.

But, the party is not a monolith. Rather, it is an amalgam of three separate parties, Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al. While Odeh — who heads Hadash — has made direct and indirect comments regarding government cooperation, Ta’al leader Ahmed Tibi has remained silent on the issue.

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