A controversial new Israeli bill labelled “tyranny by the majority” passed into law on Tuesday night, with critics warning that it threatens democracy and free speech and is designed to silence Arab voices in parliament.
The law, promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, allows the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to impeach parliamentarians for incitement to violence, racism or support of armed struggle if three quarters of Knesset members (MKs) agree.
It has been widely condemned by Israel’s allies, as well as opposition politicians, civil rights groups and political analysts within Israel, after the vote passed by 62 votes to 47. Netanyahu’s ruling coalition of right-wing and religious parties holds 67 of the 120 Knesset seats, with 16 Arab Israelis among the opposition.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called it a “dark mark on Israel’s face,” adding: “The hate-filled government is busy widening the rift that threatens Israel more than any outside enemy.”
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said it turned the Israeli parliament into “investigator, judge and jury, on the basis of a vague legal provision,” was “borne of a desire to expel Arab MKs” and “harms the principles of separation of powers and freedom of expression, as well as the relationship between the State of Israel and its Arab minority”.
He added: “It is tyranny of the majority, damaging democracy as a system of government for all citizens. It will tarnish Israel’s image as a free society, and cause grave damage to its international position and relationship with other democracies.”
Debbie Gilad-Hayo of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said “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.”
Netanyahu introduced the bill after three Palestinian parliamentarians visited the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces after they carried out attacks in East Jerusalem. This week he applauded the new law, saying it ended the “absurd situation” in which “supporters of terror” could serve as MKs.
But MK Yousef Jabarin of the Joint List said it was designed to put Palestinian lawmakers “on probation,” adding: “This is apartheid legislation, which paves the way for a political transfer of the Arab public’s elected officials.”