Friday, February 19, 2016

The end of democracy? - Dr. Gabi Avital

by Dr. Gabi Avital

The proposed amendment allowing suspension of MKs is not a danger to democracy.

"The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world." This, of course, is the opening paragraph of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Democracy was not invented in the State of Israel, and not because the term does not appear at all in the Declaration of Independence -- rather simply because Western countries invented it first. 

We would not need instructions for democracy were the distance between ideal life according to laws and declarations and real life not so great. This gap made the oldest democracies, including the United States, Britain, France and Australia, place forces on government guard duty. No, I do not mean military forces but rather laws and traditions that safeguard the government's form and function.

The current firestorm in the Jewish state is related to its Arab minority, which is carefully protected in the Declaration of Independence. The large Arab minority is represented by its elected officials, who are supposed to be the community's mouthpiece on every issue. But the recent deviation of three Arab Knesset members -- who visited the families of terrorists who had been killed, took part in a moment of silence in the terrorists' memory and even displayed a certain admiration, calling them "martyrs" -- made many people angry, including Meretz MK Ilan Gilon. And from here, the path was forged toward suggesting that the prime minister amend the Basic Laws, allowing the removal of Knesset members from office with a 90-vote majority: It is becoming easier to understand the Knesset. 

Internal logic suggests that it would not be appropriate to pass laws that would restrict the behavior of elected officials -- certainly not laws that would enforce suspension or permanent expulsion from the Knesset. But we have already spoken about how democracies that are bigger and older than Israel work. A brief examination of parliament member suspension laws in the countries mentioned earlier revealed that if the amendment is accepted in Israel, it would be a much milder version of similar laws in those countries. 
The proposed amendment is the norm in Western countries. Take, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives, which used its expulsion authority to remove former representative James Traficant from office, after he was convicted of taking bribes, tax evasion and racketeering, among other things. And what is the majority needed to expel a representative? Two thirds. What does the proposed amendment in Israel suggest? Ninety Knesset members, which is three quarters of the representatives. What's more, the law in the United States allows the potential expulsion of any House member who violates the "standard of conduct applicable to the conduct of such Member ... in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities." According to this, one could quickly get rid of several Knesset members. In Britain, a parliament member can be suspended with a simple majority vote if he or she has violated the ethics code or committed contempt of Parliament, and there are many such examples. 

The proposed amendment in Israel refers to crimes such as supporting terrorism, racist incitement and incitement against the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. That is to say, the Western laws on this issue are quick on the trigger compared to Israel's. Moreover, with the political situation in Israel, achieving a majority of 90 MKs is a near-impossible mission. The panic among the Left, supported by the president, has no basis. There is no anticipated danger to democracy, and certainly not an end to it either. What Western countries are allowed to do under more lax conditions, Israel should be able to do under stringent ones.

Dr. Gabi Avital


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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