After a stormy session, the Knesset approved on Monday night a preliminary reading of the controversial Suspension Bill by a vote of 59 to 52.
The bill, which will allow a vote of 90 MKs to suspend a fellow lawmaker for “unseemly behavior,” was drafted after three Arab MKs from the Joint (Arab) List visited families of Palestinian terrorists who were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis. Their show of solidarity, including a moment of silence, provoked condemnations and the legislative response.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for the bill, which he initiated, telling a Likud faction meeting that it is “meant to remove MKs who stand against Israel and for terrorism.”
Grounds for suspension would be: incitement to violence or racism, support for armed conflict against Israel or negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The suspension can last as long as the rest of the MK’s term, and he or she would be replaced by their party’s next in line.
If the law passes, it would not affect the three Arab MKs retroactively. They were already suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee from all Knesset activity, except voting, for a period of two to four months, depending on their records.
Despite having Netanyahu’s full weight behind it, his coalition was able to muster only 59 votes, as Likud MKs Avraham Naguise and David Amsalem boycotted the vote in protest over the government’s backtracking on the schedule for Ethiopian aliyah.
Ahead of the vote, Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon told Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that the 61 vote majority would be desirable in the event of a challenge to the law in the Israeli High Court.
During the debate before voting, Joint List MKs used their speech time at the podium to recite a pre-arranged formula:
“I will do all I can to uproot phenomena of fascism and racism and exclusion. I will continue to fight the occupation of the Palestinian people and for peace, and will continue to act for social justice and equality,” the Joint List MKs each said, in turn.
Last month, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh warned that the party’s members would resign from the Knesset if the Suspension Bill becomes law.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog denounced the bill, saying that if it passes, “something will be lost from Israeli politics. Herzog argued that such a law is unnecessary, since the legal tools for dealing with disloyal politicians already exist.
“A law that places the fate of a Knesset member in the hands of other Knesset members –against the will of those who elected him – is invalid, dangerous, and undermines the democratic process in Israel.’
Earlier Monday, Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said that although he favors the bill in principle, he would not vote for it unless he gets reciprocal support from the coalition for a bill to block the High Court from intervening in rulings of the Central Elections Committee, which determines eligibility of candidates for the Knesset.
Had Lieberman thrown his support to the bill in Monday’s vote, his party’s six votes would have given it a majority of 65.