Anti-Democratic Knesset Bills – by Stephen Lendman
Knesset summer session bills grievously harm civil and human rights if passed. Basic freedoms are at risk, including speech, assembly, association, and right to dissent.
On October 16, a Haaretz editorial addressed one measure affecting press freedom headlined, “Free press in Israel is in danger,” saying:
Knesset extremists want to silence it “through the threat of libel suits that would jeopardize the economic foundations of the media outlets.”
Last week, Knesset Law and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu party) approved MK Yariv Levin’s (Likud) bill for first reading. It calls for more punitive libel compensation from 50,000 to NIS 300,000 (Israeli new shekel) with no need to prove damages.
Moreover, the penalty could rise to NIS 1.5 million if the complainant’s response isn’t published in full.
Levin claimed “freedom of expression is not freedom of transgression.” MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) wants Israelis protected from “the great power of the media.”
Neither addressed core democratic principles. Free expression is fundamental. Feigning support for civil rights, both want press freedom silenced. At issue is preventing criticism of business, government, and other influential figures.
“For years now, democracy in Israel has been under attack from the right-wing parties….(They) control the Knesset and enjoy” protective Kadima support in their efforts to establish ‘Jewish supremacy’ using the tools of law.”
Israel’s “Prohibition on Instituting a Boycott” law prohibits actions against Israeli products, persons and activities connected to Israel and its settlements.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said passage gravely weakened Israeli democracy. So did other enacted measures. Those now pending may destroy it entirely.
ACRI discussed them in its summer Knesset review. They include:
Committees of Inquiry to Investigate NGOs
Two pending bills seek to establish committees of inquiry into NGO financing. So far neither measure passed. Rejecting them as written in July, they may be reintroduced in new form. At issue is targeting NGOs critical of Israeli policies.
An Amendment to the 2002 Civil Service Law
If enacted, applicants with Israeli military or other national service will receive preferential treatment regardless of qualifications. Arabs will be marginalized.
The measure violates Israel’s Equal Opportunity in Employment Law. The bill passed its first reading. So far, no further action was taken.
An Amendment to Israel’s Anti-Defamation Law
Passage will permit libel suits and criminal prosecutions against anyone slandering Israel or its institutions. It would also let affected persons bring civil suits. NGOs critical of Israeli policies are specifically targeted. No action so far was taken.
Amending Israel’s Income Tax Ordinance (Taxation of Public Institutions Receiving Contributions from Foreign Political Entities)
NGOs, mainly human rights ones, are again targeted by imposing a 45% tax on foreign contributions received. State funded organizations will be exempt. No action so far was taken.
Amending the Associations Law (Prohibition of Support from a Foreign State Entity to Political NGOs in Israel)
If passed, human rights organizations will be prohibited from accepting foreign contributions exceeding 20,000 NIS annually. Bill explanatory notes say:
“(M)any organizations operating under the guise of ‘human rights groups’ come here to influence the political discourse, the character, and the policies of the State of Israel.”
Hearings so far were postponed. Foreign affairs and other officials fear the measure harms Israel’s image. So do others reviewed in this article and bills now law.
The Courthouses Bill Amendment (Transparency in the Appointment of Supreme Court Justices and in the Appointment of the President and Vice-President of the Supreme Court)
The measure seeks to establish public hearings and making appointments dependent on the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
At issue is politicizing appointments, violating separation of powers, and further weakening checks and balances. The bill was tabled. No further action was taken.
Return of the Wisconsin Program
The bill aims to give far-reaching powers to corporations at the expense of workers. They include authority to deny them income support benefits that provide social safety net protection for families with no other income source.
Privatizing this power will deprive hundreds of thousands of employees of their right to live in dignity, besides issues of liberty, property and privacy.
Passage also will violate Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. It would expand the program nationwide as fixed policy. ACRI strongly opposed the original Wisconsin Plan. It promises strong opposition to this one. It’s being debated in the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Planning and Building Reform
This measure would replace the current Planning and Building Law. According to the Council for Responsible Planning, the bill damages the public’s interest and violates environmental standards.
Among other issues, it fails to ensure fair representation on planning councils. It gives no clear authority to government over local concerns. It impairs citizen rights to oppose plans and appeal council decisions.
It excludes provisions for public decision making participation. It also omits mechanisms to ensure social interests such as social consulting, social impact studies, assuring affordable housing, and others.
Under debate, the measure’s preparing for its second and third readings.
The National Housing Committees Law
The bill potentially harms public and social interests by bypassing Planning and Building Law provisions. It excludes local planning committee authority to promote affordable housing in neighborhoods of mixed social character. It’s discriminatory and unfair.
It passed the Knesset plenum last August.
Amending the Entry into Israel Law, it authorizes a “Tribunal for Foreign Nationals” to hear issues relating to legal residency, including for children of permanent residents.
It lets both Interior and Justice ministries rule on immigration and residency status of non-Jews. Concentrating executive, legislative and judicial authority this way violates democratic principles, including separation of powers, public court proceedings, and judicial fairness.
It also harms non-citizen and permanent resident spouses, East Jerusalem children, migrant workers, stateless persons and others. The Interior Committee approved the measure for its second and third readings.
Prevention of Infiltrators Law
It authorizes arrest of asylum seekers and their children for up to three years. Israel’s Entry into Israel Law permits up to 60 days.
If passed, every asylum seeker potentially could face criminal prosecution and imprisonment for up to five years. It also applies to anyone aiding and abetting them. Repeat offenders may face 15 years.
The bill trashes fundamental human rights principles. The Committee on Internal Affairs is debating it in preparation for its second and third readings.
Enforcement and Protection of Public Safety Bill
The measure dramatically expands municipal inspectors’ powers, authorizing them to prevent violence in local jurisdictions. It abrogates state responsibility to provide essential services to all its citizens. Instead, it would transfer core services to local municipalities.
The original text was draconian. It’s now softened but still worrisome. It permits conflict of interest and the politicization of law enforcement. At the same time, it widens the gap between law enforcement in various communities.
It discriminates on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and nationality. It lacks an independent, effective way to handle public complaints. It also gives inspectors police powers.
The Committee on Internal Affairs approved it as a Temporary Order. Valid for two years, it applies only to 13 localities already running a pilot project. A final vote is expected soon.
Prisons Ordinance (Amendment 32 – Preventing a Prisoner from Meeting with a Specific Lawyer)
The measure seeks to prevent security prisoners from consultations with specific lawyers, based on secret information. It also applies without having to prove attorneys committed improper behavior.
Israeli law already prevents lawyer/client meetings in cases involving (secret) suspicions it could be used to commit a crime, endangering public security or prison discipline.
The proposed amendment goes further, and lengthens incarceration periods before judicial oversight is required. It violates fundamental prisoner rights. Approved for second and third readings, a final vote is expected soon.
Criminal Procedures Law (Powers of Enforcement – Bodily Searches and Means of Identification, Amendment 3)
Earlier legislation authorized establishing a genetic database. Doing so raised privacy and dignity issues. It also enhances law enforcement. As a result, balances and limits were imposed on what data could be stored, how, and how it’s used.
The current measure overturns this delicate balance, intrusively affecting privacy. It authorizes more bodies (including international ones) to receive information. It also lets more types of information be collected and maintained.
The bill passed.
Biometric Database Pilot
The measure authorizes establishing it with little attention paid to issues causing other governments to reject similar projects. Nonetheless, regulatory oversight was approved by a special Knesset committee with little debate.
Planning and Construction Law (Proposed Amendment – Financing the Demolition of Illegal Construction at the Expense of the Builder)
The measure proposes doing so without judicial review and without letting builders demolish structures themselves. State costs are much higher.
Second and third readings were approved. The bill is seriously flawed despite moderating its original form. Further Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee debate is expected.
Entry into Israel Law (Amendment 21)
The measure pertains to work permits given migrant workers. It seeks to restore binding them to one employer. Israel’s High Court earlier ruled it illegal, calling it “a modern form of slavery.”
The bill was approved to become law after its second and third readings.
It seeks to legally anchor “state of emergency” regulations regarding the fight against terrorism into permanent legislation. Its provisions are draconian, threatening irreversible human rights damage.
Administrative detention and control orders are established, authorizing anti-democratic authority to arrest and detain people indefinitely without charge.
Secret evidence may be used. Terrorist organizations and acts of terror are broadly defined. Illegal interrogation methods may be used. New rules contradict basic criminal law standards.
Unchecked executive branch authority is granted without trial based on uncorroborated suspicions. The measure is classic police state extremism. The bill passed its first reading in August.
Authority to Protect Public Safety Bill (Amendment – Police Search Authority)
The measure lets police conduct intrusive searches at places of entertainment and in their vicinity, even without suspicion of wrongdoing. It essentially grants police state authority to discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, nationality and other inappropriate criteria.
Proposed Amendment to the Police Ordinance (Obligation to Wear Identification Tags)
The measure seeks to require police to identify themselves. ACRI supports the bill. Earlier it wrote police authorities about concerns regarding masked police and other disguises.
Police now condone it, especially when confronting demonstrations. The bill passed its first reading.
Discrimination against Women within the National Insurance Law
Under current law, the National Insurance Institute (NII) defines women who haven’t worked for four consecutive years as housewives, regardless of how long previously employed.
Housewives don’t pay insurance premiums. As a result, they forfeit some of rights. A Labor, Welfare and Health Committee raised the problem. The NII assistant director said legislation was being prepared to address it. At this time, nothing further is known.
ACRI calls water a fundamental human right. It emphasizes state responsibility to ensure equitable distribution without discrimination. High water rates charged by private corporations pose problems. ACRI seeks legislative relief.
A Final Comment
Israel’s current Knesset under Netanyahu is its worst ever. Repressive legislation threatens Arabs and Jews. Democracy is illusory, not real. Bad conditions worsen.
Civilized societies accept all citizens as equals, or should. Israel rejects that standard, even for most Jews.
Israeli Arabs never had rights. Increasing numbers of Jews are now affected. Wealthy and privileged ones prosper at the expense of others. Israel resembles America. Social justice and democratic freedoms in both countries are fast disappearing.
Recent and current Knesset legislation gravely endanger them. It’s time for Israelis to rally again like last summer for social justice. Otherwise they may lose out entirely.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.