Livni postpones debate on PM-endorsed ‘Zoabi bill’

Delay is second setback this week for proposal aimed at expelling from the Knesset MKs who incite against state

Tzipi Livni on November 2, 2014. (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90/pool)
Tzipi Livni on November 2, 2014. (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90/pool)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday postponed a committee debate on a controversial piece of legislation for the second time in the last week, delaying discussion of the so-called “Zoabi bill” after an appeal was submitted, and drawing the ire of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which sponsored the bill.

Named for Arab Israeli Balad MK Hanin Zoabi, the bill aims to penalize incitement among Knesset members. Zoabi infamously participated in the 2010 flotilla that sought to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and ended with the death of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists. In June, she said the kidnappers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach — three Israeli teens who were later found killed — were “not terrorists.” She also expressed pro-Hamas views during Israel’s war with Gaza over the summer.

According to the text of the bill, “an MK who in a time of war or military action against an enemy state or terror organization offers public support for military struggle against the State of Israel, their term in the Knesset shall be terminated on the day the Knesset decides by a majority of its members and at the recommendation of the Knesset House Committee that the published comments constitute the aforementioned expressions of support.”

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the cabinet committee headed by Livni that votes on government support for bills in the Knesset, already refused on Sunday to vote on supporting the bill on the grounds that it was inappropriate for the executive branch of the government to attempt to influence changes to the functioning of the legislative branch.

Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem, who authored the bill, chastised the bill’s opponents and said that his party would continue to fight for its passage.

“The bill I proposed was signed by almost all the factions, and –surprise — populist parties and those with electoral considerations appealed the decision,” he said.

Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) is escorted out of a plenum session by Knesset staff, July 13, 2011 (photo credit: Omer Miron/Flash90)
Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) is escorted out of a plenum session by Knesset staff, July 13, 2011 (photo credit: Omer Miron/Flash90)

In a meeting Monday of the Likud Knesset faction, Netanyahu said he supported the bill, but demanded changes to make it harder to carry out the expulsion – including increasing the number of votes required from a regular majority in the plenum to an absolute majority of 61.

In keeping with the accepted legislative process, the bill will come up for a preliminary vote in the plenum at some point, and negotiations over amendments to the bill will begin only after it passes the initial vote.

In the explanatory preface to the bill, its proponents write that “every democracy must place red lines” regarding “support for the enemy in a time of war.” Those red lines include “allowing parliamentary representation only when there is agreement on minimal rules of the game, including recognition and loyalty to the very state in whose Knesset the member is serving.”

The Basic Law: The Knesset already forbids parties that explicitly support armed war against Israel from running for Knesset. The proposed amendment would add the ability to expel individual MKs who express such views after their election to parliament.

In a response to the bill, Zoabi told Haaretz: “No parliament that expels its members has a right to speak in the name of democracy. This is a hostile act against my constituency and against every democrat in the country. This is an insane bill that will allow coalition members of Knesset to strip the minority of parliamentary representation.”

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