Despite Opposition ‘Trick,’ Disbarment Law Passes Knesset Vote

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After a lengthy and stormy session, the Knesset passed the Disbarment Law on its second and third reading. The law empowers MKs to eject their fellows for speaking out against the existence of the state or against the IDF. The vote was taken in the early hours of Wednesday, after hours of debate and attempts by the opposition to dump the bill on technical grounds. The bill passed by a majority of 62 in favor to 47 against.

The discussion took a surprising turn immediately before the vote. The opposition had filed dozens of objections to the bill, but at one point seemingly reversed itself and retracted all its objections, apparently in the hope of surprising members of the coalition, some of whom were out of the plenum on the assumption that the vote would only take place later. When they realized what happened, coalition whips hurriedly summoned MKs back into the room and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin filibustered while the missing coalition MKs were being tracked down. All’s well that ends well, though, and the vast majority of coalition MKs were found and voted for the bill, ensuring that it passed.

Under the bill, an MK can be impeached if their fellow MKs decide that their comments run contrary to the rule of law or the “spirit” of Israeli democracy. The disbarment process requires 70 MKs to vote to eject the offender, with at least ten of the votes coming from the opposition. A vote of 90 MKs is required to ratify the original impeachment vote. Once an MK is out, they can never return to the Knesset again, according to the bill. The version of the bill that passed into law was a significant softening of the original version, which would have allowed a simple majority vote of 61 to impeach an MK.

Opposition MKs, who lost what they had set as a key battle, turned to the media to express their disappointment. Zionist Camp head Yitzchak Herzog called the law “a black spot on Israeli democracy,” and Yesh Atid party MK Yael German said that the Knesset “has crossed all the red lines with this law.” United Arab List (UAL) MK Ahmed Tibi accused the government of “targeting the Arabs” by passing the law, and fellow UAL MK Yussuf Jabarin called it “apartheid legislation that paves the way to political expulsions.”

Commenting on the passage of the law, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a social media post that the new law “puts an end to an absurd situation. Those who support terror against Israel and its citizens cannot serve in Israel’s Knesset. Like any other democracy, Israeli democracy can take the steps it needs to defend itself .”

The law, introduced last year, is aimed at and was inspired by one person – MK Hanin Zoabi, well known for her outrageous comments on Israel and the IDF. Most recently, Zoabi said several weeks ago that IDF soldiers were “murderers” for killing nine Hamas-affiliated provocateurs who attacked IDF soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara as part of the 2010 Gaza flotilla. Zoabi demanded that the Israeli government apologize to the Turkish “political activists” aboard the ship, including herself. MKs filed at least 60 complaints on the comments with the Knesset Ethics Committee.

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