Netanyahu floats bill to suspend MKs for ‘unseemly behavior’
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Netanyahu floats bill to suspend MKs for ‘unseemly behavior’

Legislation, which would need 90 votes to oust an MK, revealed hours after PM slams Arab lawmakers who visited terrorists’ families

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference in Jerusalem, on February 7. 2016 (Emil Salman/Haaretz)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference in Jerusalem, on February 7. 2016 (Emil Salman/Haaretz)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would advance a bill to suspend lawmakers from the Knesset for “unseemly behavior.”

Netanyahu announced he would submit the legislation, which would require a 90-MK majority to boot a lawmaker, after consultations with coalition parties. A similar measure is in place to oust the president or Knesset speaker under similar circumstances.

The bill would target lawmakers accused of “unseemly behavior,” Netanyahu said. He did not elaborate on what the parameters of such behavior would include, and how long the suspension would last.

Netanyahu was following up on statements he made earlier Sunday to the effect that he would promote legislation that would disqualify lawmakers who follow in the footsteps of three Arab Knesset members who last week met with families of terrorists and reportedly expressed solidarity with them. On Sunday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told police to investigate the visit.

On Thursday it emerged that Joint List MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas met Tuesday with relatives of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis, ostensibly in a bid to help them retrieve the bodies for burial. All three MKs hail from the Balad party, which was folded into the 11-strong Joint List in the current Knesset.

The head of the Joint (Arab) List on Sunday condemned Netanyahu’s bill, and defended the Arab MKs who met with the families of Palestinian terrorists, while also condemning all attacks on innocent people.

“The prime minister continues with his methods of deceit and incitement,” MK Ayman Odeh said in a statement. “According to Netanyahu, he should rule like a caesar, and the Knesset should be run by the tyranny of the majority.”

Odeh said his party, which until now has not commented on the visit, “fiercely opposes Israel’s body trafficking,” referring to the Israeli government policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinian attackers.

“Netanyahu and his ministers know full well that this was the essence of the meeting in East Jerusalem,” he continued. “It’s a basic human issue. A man who dies, no matter how terrible his crime was, must be brought to burial. This does not contradict our moral and fundamental stance to condemn all attacks on innocents.”

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu had mentioned the three MKs specifically, accusing them of “building walls of hatred” to resist Israeli efforts to integrate the Arab community.

“Many Israeli citizens do not feel that these MKs represent them. We are making great efforts, a great investment to involve Arab citizens in Israeli society and [these MKs] do the exact opposite, they build walls of hatred,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

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)
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)

The three have defended the meeting, which drew wide Israeli condemnation, saying it did not constitute support for terror, though the lawmakers also reportedly observed a moment of silence for the attackers and at least one has call the dead terrorists “martyrs.”

Following the meeting, the Balad party accused Netanyahu of trying to make political hay out of the incident.

“After [Netanyahu] understood that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the contacts the MKs had, he is trying to capitalize politically to advance legislation that will harm the political representation of the Arab minority,” the party said in a statement.

While lawmakers enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, Netanyahu on Saturday night asked Mandelblit to explore if they can nevertheless face charges for supporting terror.

At the same time, Netanyahu said he wants to push forward laws to keep them out of the Knesset.

“I will ask to examine new legislative changes that will allow us to have those who act this way not serve in the Israeli Knesset. I think this thing is important as a statement of what kind of society we want to live in,” Netanyahu said, without specifying what “this way” referred to.

The prime minister added that he and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein jointly filed a complaint against the three MKs with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.

Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)
Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)

On Thursday, when news of the meeting became public, the MKs were condemned by almost all parties in the Knesset, including the opposition’s Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, and members of Meretz.

The Balad MKs defended the meeting, saying they held it in order to help the families retrieve the terrorists’s bodies, which are being held by Israel.

Zahalka claimed the visit was not a show of support for the families and said that he and the other MKs condemned the violence committed by the dead assailants. “We went to hear from the families about the issues of transferring the bodies. That’s it. There was nothing else in this visit.”

Asked why the MKs had observed a minute of silence at the meeting on Tuesday in memory of the dead killers, Zahalka said many meetings among Palestinians begin with a minute of silence “in memory of all Palestinian dead” and that the lawmakers were not honoring the terrorists themselves. He denied a report that the MKs had called the dead terrorists “martyrs.”

When pressed on how he would categorize Palestinians who had attacked and killed innocent Israeli civilians, Zahalka said that “they are victims of the occupation.”

In a Channel 10 interview, his colleague Ghattas said of the dead terrorists: “As a people, we consider them to be martyrs. You (Jewish Israelis) don’t deal with the root of the problem, which is the occupation.”

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