President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Monday added their voices to a rising chorus of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bill to allow a majority of 90 lawmakers to suspend a colleague for “inappropriate behavior.”
The bill was introduced earlier this month and approved unanimously by the coalition a week ago after three Arab MKs from the Balad party, part of the Arab-dominated Joint (Arab) List, prompted widespread criticism for meeting with the families of terrorists who were killed while attacking Israelis.
Speaking in the run-up to Tuesday’s debate on the bill by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Rivlin said Monday that 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.
“Many voices in Israel understand democracy today in a narrow and minimal way,” Rivlin said at an event in Jerusalem, Channel 10 reported. “For them, democracy is just government by the majority,” he added.
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 which included the attorney general and the criminal courts 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].”
Meanwhile, Edelstein was asked about the bill during a meeting Sunday of the International Advisory Council of the Israel Democracy Institute.
“There is no proposal like that,” he said. “It will never be tabled as long as I’m speaker.”
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 disengagement from Gaza he opposed.
The controversial bill, which is opposed by the opposition Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Joint List as well as some coalition members, will be brought up for debate at Tuesday’s Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee as planned, despite problems raised by the committee’s legal advisers, as reported by Channel 2 news on Monday.
It will still state that the justifications for suspension may include “expressions that deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” despite the advisers’ criticism that this was a “weak” reason to dismiss an MK. The advisers had no problem with the other two justifications: incitement to racism and support for armed struggle against the State of Israel.
In an opinion paper submitted to the committee, the advisers said the legislation had to be more carefully drafted. They warned that it could do “real harm to an MK’s ability to function,” possibly on repeated occasions, and was likely to cause “a nuisance, investment of resources and the interruption of parliamentary activity.”
The Knesset would have to ensure that steps set in place to put the law into practice neither harmed a lawmaker’s “legitimate ability” to function, nor excessively restricted his or her activity for the public that had elected him or her.
Analysts have said that even if the bill, which has passed its First Reading, becomes law, it will prove unimplementable in the current parliament, in which Netanyahu’s coalition numbers just 61 out of 120 MKs.
The official text of the draft bill was published Monday.