Middle East

Israeli parliament passes controversial impeachment law

Israeli parliament in session on 11 July 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The EU warned Israel's parliament earlier this month that it risked undermining democracy

Israel's parliament has passed a law that would allow it to impeach an MP who incites racism or supports armed struggle against the state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure ended an "absurd situation" whereby someone who "supports terror" was allowed to serve in the Knesset.

But critics said it was anti-democratic and aimed mainly at Israeli Arab MPs.

The law would require three-quarters of the Knesset's 120 members to vote in favour of any impeachment motion.

The move comes a week after the European Union warned that the Knesset had risked undermining democracy and freedom of speech by approving legislation that requires NGOs receiving most of their funding from abroad to declare so publicly.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel expressed similar concerns about the new impeachment law, which was approved by 62 votes to 47 early on Wednesday.

"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," said Debbie Gilad-Hayo.

"Arab [MPs] whose actions and remarks do not find favour with the political majority will be the first people harmed by the bill - however, it is a slippery slope and the bill has potential to affect all," she added.

Israeli Arabs are descendants of the Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948. They now make up about 20% the Israeli population.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many Israeli Arabs identify closely with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza

In February, three of the 18 Israeli Arab MPs caused outrage and were suspended from parliamentary activity for several months by an ethics committee after they met the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.

Thirty-three Israelis have been killed in knife, gun and car-ramming attacks since October. More than 200 Palestinians - mostly attackers, Israel says - have also been killed in that period.

The assailants who have been killed have been shot either by their victims or by security forces as they carried out attacks. Other Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

On Tuesday, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed during a clash in the occupied West Bank town of al-Ram, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Muhey al-Tabakhi died as a result of a wound inflicted by a projectile that struck his chest and caused heart failure, according to a ministry spokesman.

An Israeli police spokeswoman said border police officers had fired tear gas and stun grenades after a petrol bomb was thrown at them.