The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted on Monday, February 29, to send for a first reading to the Knesset plenum a controversial piece of legislation that would allow MKs to indefinitely suspend their colleagues for “inappropriate behavior.” The decision passed by a vote of seven to zero following a stormy and raucous session, during which the voice of the far-right committee chairman, Nissan Slomiansky (HaBayit HaYehudi [The Jewish Home]), was all but drowned out. Opposition MKs on the panel boycotted the vote itself on the grounds that the preceding debate had been insufficient.
Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), walked out screaming that the vote was illegitimate. Other opposition MKs slammed the table in anger at the handling of proceedings, and one MK, Abdallah Abu Ma’aruf (Hadash – Joint List), was removed from the committee session by Knesset security guards. “There have been regimes like this in the past,” said Abu Ma’aruf. “This is fascism.” Both MKs Khenin and Abu Ma’aruf are leading members of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI).
During the discussion, the head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), announced that he and members of his list were considering resigning from the Knesset if three lawmakers from Balad Arab party, one of the Joint List’s constituent parties, were suspended based on the proposed legislation. Odeh declared: “We were elected by our constituents and not by the Right. We were not elected by members of the Knesset and we don’t want or intend to please them. So, should the Balad members be deprived of their parliamentary seats, I will consider resigning from the Knesset.” He continued: “Despite the delegitimization campaign against us and last year’s raising of the election threshold, we decided to remain part of politics in Israel; yet they still continue to persecute us. Suddenly they’re talking about Balad and not about the Joint List. After they banned the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, now they’re beginning to demonize Balad.”
“Maybe the Knesset will become a parliament made up entirely of Jews. But this isn’t a struggle between Jews and Arabs,” Odeh said. “This is a struggle for democracy, by Jews and Arabs, together, advocating democracy in the face of McCarthyism and racism.” McCarthyism, named for the far-right American politician Joseph McCarthy who sought to expose Communists in 1950s America, is a term for making unfounded accusations to silence political dissent.
MK Khenin also spoke out against the bill. “This is a dark moment in the history of the Knesset and of the Legislative Committee. The Prime Minister wants Arab citizens of Israel not to vote so as to ensure a majority to continue his rule. Netanyahu’s message to the Arab citizens of this country is: ‘If your MKs annoy the Jews, we’ll take away their membership in the Knesset. You don’t have any chance of influencing what goes on here.” Khenin said the disrespectful style of debate reflected the bill’s content. “The Knesset chairman [Yuli Edelstein] made a problematic declaration and didn’t bother to stay to hear the questions that were posed and to answer them. After him, came [a representative of] the attorney general, who presented an embarrassing legal opinion, and then rushed to leave. This is no way to legislate,” he said.
The objections were not limited to the Joint List. MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) said, “Let’s call a spade a spade – this is a targeted assassination bill. It ambushes any MKs who don’t agree with their [the Right’s] opinions and permanently ends their political involvement.” Swid added that “hatred for Arabs so blinds the eyes of MKs that they decide to create a law that no attorney general could support. This blindness is making the coalition indifferent and numb in the face of a serious attack on democracy. We cannot let this happen.”