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US, EU worry over controversial bills advancing in Knesset

Planned anti-democratic legislation is ‘the sort of thing you normally see coming out of Russia,’ unnamed EU ambassador says

Knesset members are inducted in a ceremony in Jerusalem on March 31, 2015 (photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)
Knesset members are inducted in a ceremony in Jerusalem on March 31, 2015 (photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)

The announcement last week of the formation of a largely right-wing, religious governing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refueled concerns in the US and European Union over a number of controversial bills that will likely make their way through parliament once the new government takes office.

“When you look at some of the legislation being proposed, it is very worrying. It is anti-democratic and looks designed to shut down criticism. It’s the sort of thing you normally see coming out of Russia,” one EU ambassador told Reuters.

“The red lines for us aren’t just about settlements,” the ambassador said, reiterating the long-held concern over continued settlement activity in the West Bank and prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Several proposed bills — including the “Jewish State” bill (which seeks to enshrine Israel’s definition as a Jewish state in the country’s Basic Laws), and the NGO bill (which aims to limit the foreign funding of non-government organizations that support the prosecution of IDF officers or campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions or products) — have prompted harsh local as well as international criticism.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) at the Knesset on November 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) at the Knesset on November 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The NGO bill was pushed in 2013 by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked, the incoming justice minister, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Rovert Ilatov, whose party will join the opposition. Shaked is likely to take up the legislation.

Shaked and the Jewish Home party also seek to make key changes to the powers of the Supreme Court, a move opposed by Netanyahu, some in the Likud, and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party for the moment.

In the coalition deal between the Likud and Jewish Home, signed Wednesday with just 90-minutes to spare before the deadline, Netanyahu imposed certain restrictions on Shaked’s powers as the future justice minister, insisting that she not be able to appoint religious court judges and that she also not chair the Israeli Judicial Committee, the body that appoints judges for the law courts.

With a razor-thin 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, it is unclear how much success the new coalition will have trying to pass new legislation. The NGO bill, for example, will have the support of Avigdor Liberman’s six-seat party Yisrael Beytenu, sitting in the opposition, but not necessarily that of other parties, even those within the coalition.

“It is a deep concern for us,” said the European ambassador of Israel’s expected legislative plans. “It is the sort of thing that is a red line.”

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