The Knesset on Monday night passed the preliminary version of the Suspension Act with a majority of 59 to 53. Two Likud MKs, Avraham Neguise and David Amsalem, did not vote with the coalition — they are protesting their party’s lack of enthusiasm regarding the prospect of bringing to Israel thousands more Christian Ethiopians (the Falash Mura) who claim to have been Jewish sometime in the past. The Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon wrote Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein a letter suggesting a law that introduces such a radical change in protocol should receive at least 61 votes of support, but for now 59 votes would have to do.
The current version of the law — before it goes to committee for hearings, debate and amendments, and comes back to a second and third plenum vote — empowers a group of 61 MKs to request the suspension of a colleague for supporting the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; racial incitement; or supporting an armed fight against Israel. At that point the Knesset Committee would invite the accused MK to defend themselves against the charges. Should the committee decide to suspend the MK afterwards, the plenum would be assembled for a vote that would require 90 MKs to support the suspension. Ten days later, the next candidate on the suspended MK’s party’s list would take their place, while the MK is free to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.
As soon as the preliminary vote was concluded, MK Oren Hazan (Likud), a freshmen lawmaker who has gained a dubious reputation as the Knesset jester, called out to Meretz’s Arab MK Esawi Frej: “You’re going home.” Except that many in Israel’s media have suggested that the first victim of the new law would be Hazan himself, for a series of embarrassing brawls he has ignited, some innocently, others not so much, following which Prime Minister Netanyahu has trained his crosshairs on him. In fact, Hazan himself has been suspended for a month from the Knesset debates and allowed to come inside only to vote.
Minister Zeev Elkin concluded the debate saying the state has the right to defend itself against enemies from within who use their electoral privileges to, for instance, attack the Arab League for calling Hezbollah a terrorist state, as members of the Joint Arab List have done. Elkin also accused the Zionist left of pandering to the anti-Zionist Arabs only because Labor and Meretz cannot dream of ever forging a coalition government without the support of the Arabs.
The opposition reacted to the new bill with a variety of condemnations, starting with opposition leader MK Yitzhak Herzog (Zionist Camp – Labor) who said it was unnecessary, the Knesset has enough laws that do the job. He also said the new law would destroy Israel’s democracy.
Zionist Camp MK Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab, said the Knesset was murdering the Israeli democracy. MK Dov Hanin, the token Jew on the Joint Arab List, said Netanyahu has failed and this is why he resorts to incitement. MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp) recalled the unfortunate Netanyahu election-day video where he told his voters the Arabs were getting to the polls in packed buses, and suggested the new bill is Netanyahu’s way of cutting down the representatives of those Arab voters.
MK Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s partner in several coalition governments, whose rightwing ideology should have made him an avid supporter of the new bill, opted to order his faction Israel Beiteinu to leave the plenum before the voting started. He told the plenum during the debate that Netanyahu is reaching new heights of charlatanism, offering a 90-vote bill that would never result in a suspension of a single Arab MK. Lieberman told the Knesset the only way to prevent terror-supporting Arab MKs from being in the Knesset is at the primary stage, when the Knesset elections committee decides, time after time, to disallow the participation of candidates like MK Hanin Zoabi, a known supporter of Arab terrorism — only for their decision to be struck down by the Supreme court.