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PM asserts ‘total Likud’ support’ for MK suspension bill

Debate in Knesset Law Committee expected to resume after Netanyahu phone call; Knesset speaker backs amended legislation

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

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with Pesident Reuven Rivlin (C) and chairman of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein at a memorial service marking 20 years since the assasination of late Israeli Prime Minsiter Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. October 26, 2015. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with Pesident Reuven Rivlin (C) and chairman of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein at a memorial service marking 20 years since the assasination of late Israeli Prime Minsiter Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. October 26, 2015. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL

Hours after a Knesset committee suspended a discussion of proposed legislation that would allow MKs to boot other lawmakers out of parliament, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nudged the committee to deliberate the controversial bill, asserting that it enjoyed wall-to-wall support in the coalition.

Netanyahu on Tuesday sought to reassure the chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home), who had canceled the discussion hours earlier over uncertainty whether the measure enjoyed coalition support.

Netanyahu also defended the bill during a Berlin press conference later in the day, saying he hoped opposition lawmakers would join coalition members in voting in favor in the measure, because “a democracy needs boundaries in order to protect itself.”

“And we will make this happen,” Netanyahu vowed, adding he would seek to quickly push the measure through the Knesset.

The prime minister’s remarks came days days after President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein — both stalwarts of his Likud party — harshly criticized the measure, which would allow a vote by 90 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers to suspend a colleague for “inappropriate behavior.”

The legislation 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 on Tuesday said the Knesset “can and will” take action against lawmakers who participate in activities that “explicitly call for the destruction of Israel, support terrorism or honor the murderers of children.”

“There is a difference between anarchy and a democracy. A democracy must defend itself, and must not be taken advantage of to bring about the fall of democracy or the state itself,” he added during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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)
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)

Earlier on Tuesday, Slomiansky said he would renew the debate about the legislation after amendments were made to the text of the bill.

Asked on Sunday about the bill, Edelstein, the Knesset speaker, had said: “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 unusual for a legislation to be removed from the docket, especially if its sponsor was the prime minister.

“It’s not a great idea. Sometimes this party is in opposition and sometimes another party is in opposition,” Edelstein added.

On Tuesday, however, Edelstein reversed himself and said he supported the amended version of the bill. “If it’s legislated correctly, there will be no harm to democracy and even an improvement to democracy,” he told Israel Radio.

He voiced support for two recommendations made by the committee’s legal advisers, the Haaretz daily reported.

One was to erase “negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” as a reason for suspending an MK, because of the difficulty of interpreting a lawmaker’s comments accurately. The other was to significantly raise the number of MKs needed to open a probe into a particular lawmaker. That number is currently 61.

Edelstein said he was in favor of “a logical bill which will put an end to a situation in which MKs says out loud… that they do not recognize the State of Israel and support terrorism.”

Emphasizing that his expression of opposition on Sunday had referred to an earlier version of the bill, he said the devil was in the details and that the limitations on suspension of MKs had to be clearly expressed.

The new wording allows the Knesset to suspend an MK who verbally supports a lone terrorist. But the provision in the original bill not to limit the length of a suspension still stands.

Currently, the Knesset Ethics Committee can suspend MKs from parliamentary activities 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.

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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