Israel's Knesset is set to debate tomorrow a bill that would allow Knesset members to suspend any member who denies Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the bill but it is opposed by President Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Joint List parties.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's support of the bill follows a recognizable pattern of coalition preservation that has defined his leadership. The Prime Minister first supports a conservative piece of legislation, then waits for moderate opposition, and finally moderates his position citing that pressure. Netanyahu pursued a similar course with the Yisrael Beiteinu party's controversial loyalty oath bill. In that case, Netanyahu initially supported the bill, but then ordered changes making it more palatable to moderates. He is likely to do the same with the current bill, which Knesset legal advisers warn could cause serious complications to an MK's ability to legislate.
The current bill was introduced after three Joint Arab List members met with the families of Palestinians terrorists. While the MKs claim the visit was intended to support efforts to have Israel return the bodies of the attackers, most Israelis understood the meeting as evidence of Arab leadership's support for terrorism. The three MKs have been suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee.
However, while the visits rightfully offend Israelis, the resulting bill targets speech rather than action. It may exacerbate Israeli Arab mistrust towards Israel's government and security apparatus at a time when members of that community are carrying out terrorist attacks. While certain views of Israel's Arab minority offend other Israelis, an official platform to express these views creates buy-in among Israeli Arabs for the political process. And since Israeli Arab MKs are a minority, there are also strategic incentives for the Joint List to be judicious about when it raises such opinions.
Furthermore, in a time when liberals in Israel are being labelled "foreign plants," the bill as it stands currently may have a severe chilling effect on speech in the Knesset. The limitations imposed by the bill are unclear and could be used to target political opponents rather than "safeguard" the debate. Additionally, the voting mechanism the bill uses effectively gives the Knesset power to choose which Israeli citizens get representation. In a country where 20% of the population are minorities, this would harm the efficacy of democratic governance.