The idea of the parliamentary dismissal law was proposed a number of times in the past by right-wing members of Israel’s Knesset (MKs). At the time, it was usually considered to be a “crazy idea”, extreme and far-fetched. It was said to be unreasonable for some members of the Knesset to dismiss other members of the Knesset, to which they had been elected democratically. However, the impossible has just become possible under the current government led by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This week, the law passed its first reading by 59 votes to 53. Two MKs from Netanyahu’s Likud Party abstained, boycotting the vote and demanding instead $792 million in order to bring the rest of Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel. In addition, Knesset members from the even more extreme Yisrael Beiteinu party also abstained; they demanded a stricter version of the law in question by the elimination of the right to appeal to the Supreme Court against dismissal or being blocked from nomination.
There have been discussions about the legality of the vote because amending a basic law requires an absolute majority of 61 MKs. There are those who believe that this amendment is not changing a basic law, though, and so a normal majority is enough. It is likely that MKs will head to the Supreme Court to resolve the issue. This may lead to the law being shelved in practice temporarily, but it will, in any case, receive an absolute majority vote after the disputes with Lieberman and the rogue Likud MKs are resolved.
Netanyahu pushed strongly for the introduction of this law, announcing that he wants to pass it as soon as possible in order to enforce it against MKs who “support terrorism and meet with the families of terrorists”. This was a reference to the Joint List MKs Haneen Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and myself; we met with Jerusalemite families who are demanding the return of their children’s bodies which have been withheld by the Israeli authorities for many months. After this meeting, the three of us were suspended from the Knesset.
Israel’s persecution of Arab parliamentarians is nothing new. On the day of the General Election in March last year, Netanyahu incited the Israeli public by telling them to go out and vote in order to rescue the right-wing government from the Arabs who were, he said, “rushing to the ballot boxes and coming by organised buses”. Netanyahu believes that his appeal worked and has thus given his party more power, since when he has continued to incite against the Arabs and persecute them; he has also banned the Islamic Movement inside Israel. It was his initiative to dismiss the Joint List MKs and he is using all of his political strength to pass the parliamentary dismissal law, by which a majority of 90 MKs can suspend or dismiss any fellow MK based on their political positions, especially relating to the Palestinian struggle and the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. This majority is difficult to achieve in “normal” votes, but is likely to be more than achievable given the hysteria surrounding emergency situations, war and communal tensions, of which there have been many lately.
The law is part of Netanyahu’s new agenda, which is based on the fact that Arab Palestinians who live in Israel are not normal citizens; they are “internal enemies”. He has incited and turned ordinary Israelis against them and their political leaders in the hope of earning more popularity as a result. In his last campaign against the Arab parties and leaderships in Israel, Netanyahu and the state institutions tried to contain and overcome the wave of Palestinian nationalism within what is known to Israel’s Arab citizens as “1948 Palestine” (upon the land of which Israel was created). New methods are being tried in order to set out tight limitations for political work and expression, with attempts being made to set out exactly what is legitimate and acceptable and what is extreme and prohibited. Representatives of the Israeli government said this clearly and openly during the debate about the new law. “We do not want to dismiss all of the Arab MKs,” it was claimed. “We will dismiss the extremists and keep the moderates.” In other words, they want to decide who will represent Israel’s Arab citizens.
One of the most important strategies to challenge the new law and the neo-fascist Israeli campaign against the Palestinians in “1948 Palestine” is to maintain national unity and develop it. The right-wing has been trying to weaken the Arabs’ parliamentary representation, and the electoral threshold for Arab MKs was raised from 2 per cent to 3.25 per cent. This was responded to by unity and the formation of the Joint List to run in the elections, through which our representation was raised from 11 to 13 Arab MKs.
Remaining united provides an important opportunity to overcome attempts to impose a false divide between “extremist” and “moderates” within the ranks of the Arab leadership in Israel. If Arab MKs are dismissed because of their political positions, then the MKs collectively should all resign and boycott subsequent elections, leaving the Knesset, which claims to be a democratic institution, to exist solely for Israeli Jews.
That’s where an approach at the international level has a role, with efforts to have the Knesset dismissed from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. There is a good chance for such an approach to be successful if the new law passes its second and third readings and is then enforced against the Joint List MKs. If we are dismissed from parliament, then we will demand that parliament’s dismissal at a higher level.
Translated from Arab48, 29 March, 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.