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Israel passes law slammed by critics as a move to silence Palestinian lawmakers

July 20, 2016 9:59 A.M. (Updated: July 20, 2016 9:19 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed into law late Tuesday night a bill that would allow Knesset members to vote to oust their colleagues from office, legislation that has been slammed by critics as targeting Palestinian MKs and harmful to “the very building blocks of democracy.”

The so-called “suspension bill,” which ultimately passed with 62 votes in favor and 45 against, stipulates grounds for dismissal as “incitement to violence or racism, support for armed conflict against Israel, or rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In a statement Tuesday leading up to the vote, attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) Debbie Gild-Hayo said the bill was “one of the most serious legislative proposals in recent years, and it harms the very building blocks of democracy -- the right to freedom of expression, the right to vote and to be elected, and the right to representation.”

“Arab MKs whose actions and remarks do not find favor with the political majority will be the first people harmed by the bill,” she said, noting however the bill could affect all MKs. “It is no coincidence that there are right-wing MKs, including the Minister for Justice (Ayelet Shaked), who do not support the law.”

“The bill allows political parties to act as investigators, prosecutors and judges,” continued Gild-Hayo, stressing that the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee -- which is charged with undertaking the expulsion process -- was motivated by political and electoral interests.

“Indeed, this legislation attempts to not only shoot the message but also shoot the messenger,” MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List -- which brings together representatives of the Palestinian community in Israel -- noted in a press release on Tuesday.

“Supporters of this bill seek to dispose of Arab MKs in order to silence them and the views they find intolerable. This is an affront not only to the MKs who may face removal from their positions, but also to their voters.”

“Such a move invalidates tens of thousands of legitimately cast votes,” Jabareen said.

The bill’s passage into law came after its final version was approved by the Justice Committee on Monday.

For an MK to be dismissed, 70 of the 120 total MKs are required to launch the expulsion process, 10 of whom must be from the opposition. To ultimately remove the sitting member from the Knesset, a majority of 90 MKs would have to vote to approve the motion.

The bill was first introduced after Palestinian MKs paid visits to the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces after they carried out attacks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in March the law would be used to suspend MKs who "stand behind terror."

The legislation regained traction after Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi enraged lawmakers by calling Israeli soldiers who participated in the 2010 deadly raid of the Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip “murderers,” as she was forcibly removed from the plenum for her comments.

In response to the incident, Coalition Chairman David Bitan of the Likud party, with the support of Netanyahu, unsuccessfully tried to shelve the suspension bill in exchange for a law designed simply to oust Zoabi.

Tuesday’s vote went late into the evening, with coalition MKs delaying the proceedings. Likud Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin stood at the podium and repeated the phrase: ”Today, it has become clear that the Labor Party and Yesh Atid work for Haneen Zoabi. You should be ashamed of yourselves,” and did so until a sufficient amount of MKs from the coalition arrived to cast their votes in favor of the bill.

Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky of the Jewish Home party presented the bill and said: ”The Knesset will no longer be a shroud for terrorism and racism. Members of the Knesset whose paycheck is funded by the state cannot use it to undermine its foundations,” as MKs from the opposition protested and said the law itself was racist and targeted Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said on Monday that bill was just the most recent stage in greater objective by Netanyahu to silence Palestinian opposition and criticism of Israel.

“Netanyahu doesn’t want Arabs to vote; he doesn’t want us to be a legitimate political force. Netanyahu wants politics for Jews only. That’s why he systematically incites against the Arab public and against its elected officials,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Odeh as saying.

The Knesset approved a law on Monday which significantly increased the penalty for defacing the Israeli flag, or anything the state rules as “offensive behavior” towards its flag, posing heightened risks for Palestinian protesters within the occupied territory. Earlier this month, the Knesset also criminalized efforts to discourage Palestinian Christians with Israeli citizenship from serving in the Israeli army.

Last week, the Knesset passed the “NGO bill” into law, as human rights groups and opposition Knesset members condemned the legislation for seeking to “silence criticism” of Israel and delegitimize left-wing groups.

Jabareen noted in his press release that in recent years, “the public and political atmosphere in Israel has veered sharply to the right and has become much more extreme. The vast majority of attacks have targeted Israel’s Arab-Palestinian minority -- representing some 20 percent of Israeli citizens.”

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