Israel’s Supreme Court convened on Monday, June 4, to hear a petition against the Knesset Ethics Committee’s decision to bar MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen from participating in a series of lectures in the United States sponsored by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) because to the organization’s support for a boycott of Israel. Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and MK Jabareen (Hadash –Joint List) filed the joint petition on April 22 against the committee’s decision of March 13.
This decision was the first implementation of a new amendment to the Knesset’s Code of Ethics that gives the ethics committee the power to forbid a Knesset member from traveling overseas if funding for the trip is provided by a body that knowingly publishes a call to boycott the State of Israel or participates in such a boycott.
Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Myssana Morany, who represented MK Jabareen in court, stressed that the amendment to the Code of Ethics constitutes an exceptional precedent: this is the first time that the code is used – with no authority – to restrict the political freedom of expression and movement of a member of the Knesset.
Further, such a restriction, imposed only upon those with a particular political position, is lacking proper purpose and disproportionately violates the right to freedom of expression in a preemptive manner – despite the fact that MK Jabareen has not even expressed the positions in question.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Knesset Ethics Committee to submit a comparative study within 45 days that examines restrictions that may have been implemented by other parliaments around the world regarding parliamentarians’ travel funded by external sources.
MK Jabareen responded to the Supreme Court’s order: “The Knesset’s representative admitted that this restriction is intended to serve as part of a governmental system designed to confront the boycott of Israel, which the government believes is damaging to the state. This means that the Knesset Ethics Committee has become a tool in the hands of the right-wing government and an instrument meant to silence the voices of critical MKs. We will not yield to the dictates of a far right government.”
According to Attorney Jabareen: “This new amendment – aimed specifically at stifling Arab members of Knesset – directly harms political freedom of expression and the right to free movement for Knesset members. It prevents Arab MKs from carrying out their duties as the elected representatives of their constituency. The Knesset has no authority to intervene in the legitimate political activities of an MK, especially when these activities involve pure political speech. The visit of an elected, sitting MK to the United States to discuss the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel falls far beyond the power of the Knesset to regulate.”
JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson also responded to the order: “It should not have taken the court any time at all to overturn the Knesset’s un-democratic restrictions on MK Dr. Jabareen’s travel. There is no doubt that in a truly democratic country this law would never have been passed.”