Lawmaker puts brakes on MK suspension bill after blowback
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Lawmaker puts brakes on MK suspension bill after blowback

Committee chair Nissan Slomiansky says he nixed planned discussion of controversial measure without consulting Netanyahu after noting lack of coalition backing

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

File: Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein, left, and MK Nissan Slomiansky attend the opening meeting of the Law and Justice Committee at the Knesset on June 1, 2015 (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
File: Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein, left, and MK Nissan Slomiansky attend the opening meeting of the Law and Justice Committee at the Knesset on June 1, 2015 (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

The chairman of the Knesset Law Committee suspended a planned discussion of a controversial bill that would allow MKs to boot other lawmakers, saying the draft legislation backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the necessary coalition support.

MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) announced the cancellation on Army Radio Tuesday morning, after President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, both stalwarts of the prime minister’s Likud party, harshly criticized the measure.

The bill aims to allow 90 MKs to suspend a fellow lawmaker for “inappropriate behavior” and was motivated by a meeting earlier this month of Arab MKs from the Balad party, part of the Arab-dominated Joint (Arab) List, with the families of terrorists who were killed while attacking Israelis.

Netanyahu has vowed to quickly push through the measure, which has already passed its first reading and is awaiting second and third votes in the Knesset before becoming law.

Slomiansky said he halted the planned Tuesday morning discussion in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee without Netanyahu’s prior approval.

“I will not advance such an important law if there’s no coalition majority,” he said, adding that he had been motivated to suspend the meeting due to the harsh opposition expressed Sunday by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Slomiansky said had not consulted with Netanyahu about the move because the prime minister is currently overseas in Berlin.

If Netanyahu could guarantee a Likud Party majority for the bill on his return, debate in the committee would be resumed, he said.

Edelstein said Sunday during a meeting of the International Advisory Council of the Israel Democracy Institute: “There is no proposal like that. It will never be put on the table as long as I’m speaker.”

The Knesset speaker sets the schedule every week, including which bills are brought to a vote. In practice, however, it would be exceptionally unusual to block legislation from being brought to a vote, especially if it’s being spearheaded by the prime minister.

Edelstein also noted that “other prime ministers” would have had no hesitation in throwing him out of the Knesset — an apparent reference to Ariel Sharon, whose 2005 disengagement plan from Gaza he had opposed.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (top), President Reuven Rivlin (center) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog attend a special anniversary session of parliament, on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (top), President Reuven Rivlin (center) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog attend a special anniversary session of parliament, on January 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 

On Monday, Rivlin said the bill reflected “a problematic understanding of parliamentary democracy,” and that the correct address for MKs who had committed or were suspected of committing crimes was the attorney general and not fellow lawmakers.

“Today, many in Israel understand the essence of democracy according to the most minimalist and narrow of definitions,” Rivlin said at an event in Jerusalem. “For them, democracy is nothing more than majority rule.”

Such an understanding was not only narrow, but dangerous — “dangerous for the minority, dangerous for the opposition, dangerous for the individual, and in the end, dangerous for the state.”

The president said it would be wrong to allow the Knesset, as the legislative and supervisory arm, to turn into an investigative and punitive body.

A system that included the attorney general and the criminal courts was already existed for cases in which an MK committed or was suspected of committing a crime, he said. The only one to be harmed by the new bill would be the State of Israel.

Rivlin pointed out that he, too, could be suspended by the Knesset. In a reference to right-wing MKs who have criticized him throughout his presidency, he said with a smile: “Over the past year, I’ve been worried, as someone who might be the first to experience [suspension].”

Currently the Knesset Ethics Committee can suspend MKs for a limited time, and not from votes in the plenum or on panels. The new legislation would expand both the amount of time lawmakers can be suspended for and the reasons for booting them.

Last week, the Knesset Ethics Committee suspended Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas for four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months over their meeting with terrorists’ families.

File: Joint (Arab) List MKs Hanin Zoabi (center), Jamal Zahalka (right) and Basel Ghattas (center left, behind Zoabi) speak with the press in Jerusalem on February 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
File: Joint (Arab) List MKs Hanin Zoabi (center), Jamal Zahalka (right) and Basel Ghattas (center left, behind Zoabi) speak with the press in Jerusalem on February 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

 

Legal advisers to the Knesset law committee raised a number of questions in an opinion paper prepared for Tuesday’s aborted meeting.

The advisers warned that such legislation could do “real harm to the ability of an MK to function,” possibly on repeated occasions, and was likely to cause “a nuisance, investment of resources and the interruption of parliamentary activity.”

Analysts have said that even if it passes into law, the bill will prove unimplementable in the current parliament, in which Netanyahu’s coalition numbers just 61 out of 120 MKs.

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