Does Yisrael Beiteinu’s New Bill Defend Democracy or Silence Criticism?

Generally, we at Kalpi avoid talking about “the conflict”. Our main goal is to encourage knowledgeable voting and there are already a million things written about “the conflict” so you can read those. However, a recent bill, which is inextricably connected to “the conflict”, brings into question interesting issues related to free speech and the role of government, so wish us luck.

The bill, written by members of Yisrael Beiteinu, is an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset 7a, which outlines who is unfit to run for Knesset. It labels any party or person as unfit to serve if their “goals or actions”, whether clear or implied, deny the existence of a Jewish and democratic Israel, incite racism or support armed struggles of enemy states or terrorists against the state of Israel. The amendment would add “including expressions” after “goals or actions”.

According to the bill’s authors, this is already the accepted standard in court. On the other hand, United Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi said that the bill is attempting to create a Knesset without Arabs. Meretz MK Michal Rozin accused the supporters of the bill of conflating supporters of free speech with supporters of terrorism. She then conflated the statements of Basel Ghattas and Bibi Netanyahu and said that terrorism and corruption equally ruin democracy…you do you Michal Rozin. You do you.

Despite the complaints, it is certainly reasonable to expect MKs to not take actions or make statements that are directly opposed to the existence of Israel. Many Arab-Israeli politicians have managed to criticize the state without supporting terrorism or being racist. The law negates support for attacks on Israelis, racism and attacks on the country’s existence as a Jewish and Democratic state. The law targets MKs who suggest that acts of terrorism are reasonable and justified by the circumstances or MKs who may have stood in silence in memory of terrorists.

I think the bigger issue lies with the basic law’s use of the term Jewish-Democratic state. What about parties that are happy with the continued Aliyah of Jews to the country, but which don’t want the country to be essentially Jewish (a description that fits Hadash and possibly Meretz based on a reading of their platform)? Should they be forbidden from joining the Knesset? When every party has their own definition of Jewish and Democratic in this context, how can we enforce the law?

Not many countries have to deal with these issues. American members of congress aren’t visiting the Husseins and only Texans seriously want to create their own country. Israel must make clear red lines that are consistently enforced, but that also allow for fair criticism of the state. Banning people from serving in the Knesset who support people who attack the state makes sense. Banning those who can’t support a Jewish and Democratic state may be too broad until a clear definition of the term can be decided upon by society.

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