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Knesset passes first reading of bill to suspend Palestinian MKs

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Israel’s Knesset on Monday night passed the first reading of a bill that would allow MKs to expel lawmakers, in what has been roundly condemned as a political campaign launched against the parliament’s Palestinian members.

The law could see lawmakers suspended from their duties if voted for by 90 MKs, three-quarters of Israel’s lawmakers, for behavior deemed inappropriate.

The bill, an amendment to an existing bill, could see an MK suspended for “negating” the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism, or supporting an armed struggle against Israel, according to the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel.

It stipulates that grounds for suspension can be proved solely by a statement provided by MKs, the group said.

A draft of the bill was submitted and approved upon the urging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau, who last month called for the suspension of three Palestinian MKs when they visited the families of Palestinians killed while allegedly carrying out attacks on Israelis.

The three MKs, all members of the Joint Arab List, which represents Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, were later suspended by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.

During Monday’s Knesset meeting, the Joint List slammed the bill as “racist and unconstitutional.”

“The suspension law has only one aim, to strike against the political existence of Palestinians in Israel,” the coalition of four Palestinian parties said in a statement following Monday’s vote.

It condemned the bill as a “continuation of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” by Israel, which it said was carried out through incitement and threats.

“What Netanyahu does not understand is that just as ethnic cleansing failed to strain our (Palestinian) existence, political cleansing will not succeed in stopping our political movement and resistance,” the Joint List went on.

“We reject that a radical and racist occupation government draws limits on our political capability by setting conditions on our parliamentary membership,” the group added.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Joint List head Ayman Odeh warned last month that he and other Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset may resign if the bill was passed.

The first reading was passed despite efforts by ACRI to urge MKs to vote against the bill, saying that “freedom of expression is expressed precisely through respecting and being inclusive of positions that are considered extreme.”

“This law is being promoted to harm the Arab MKs, whose statements and actions do not find favor with the political majority,” ACRI said.

Netanyahu’s championing of the bill has exacerbated longstanding frustrations from members of the Joint List who say they have faced staunch resistance from the Israeli government since they came together.

The coalition was formed ahead of the last round of Israeli elections to fight for the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority, which rights groups say has faced systematic discrimination for decades.

[Source: Ma’an News Agency]
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