What to Watch in the Knesset

The New Israel Fund tracks legislation in the Knesset that could change the way Israeli democracy functions. We will be providing regular updates throughout this Knesset session.

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New Step to Legalize West Bank Settlement Outposts

Banning the Palestinian Flag

An Extra-governmental State for Settlers? (Really.)

Want to move to a small town? Not so fast (if you’re Arab or Mizrahi)

Dismantling Democratic Checks and Balances — Turning Government Attorneys into Political Appointments

Netanyahu’s Coalition Narrows

Intimidating Artists with “Loyalty” Tests

Compelling Loyalty from the Arts, Part II

Letting Settlers Build in East Jerusalem Flashpoint Silwan Neighborhood

No Constitutional Protection for People Seeking Refuge

Criminalizing Political Speech

Is the Strategic Affairs Ministry Outsourcing Production of Its Blacklist?

Whitewashing Settlement Outposts



New Step to Legalize West Bank Settlement Outposts

Last updated: 12/14/2018

Taking advantage of the anger among settlers and their supporters in the wake of the attacks of this week, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) is pushing legislation that would create new legal standing for settlement outposts built in violation of Israeli law.

The bill is scheduled to come to a vote at the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday. Smotrich, and Minister Uri Ariel (from the same faction within Jewish Home) are threatening to suspend their support for the Coalition if the bill isn’t approved on Sunday.

The government has already taken a series of steps to “regulate” these outposts, many of which could not be made legal because they involve the theft of private property owned by Palestinians. First, the government passed the “Outpost Law” in February 2017 to create a mechanism by which the government can take over the property rights of the Palestinians. The High Court of Justice has blocked implementation of this law while it hears arguments against it. Israel’s Attorney General has refused to defend the law in court. Second, the Cabinet passed a formal decision to create a staff that would, by executive action, create legal standing for the outposts.

This new legislation is intended to further inoculate these outposts from legal challenges, to encourage their growth, and to undermine the property rights of the Palestinian landowners. The bill specifically suspends all of the stop-work and demolition orders issued in cases of illegal construction at the outposts. It also requires the explicit approval of the Cabinet for each and every action by authorities to enforce construction and zoning laws.

The law also requires local authorities to incorporate the outposts within two years and to provide municipal services to the settlers living there. It requires the government to treat the outposts as if they were legal towns, a provision that would open up budgets to the outposts.

More Resources:


Banning the Palestinian Flag

Last updated: 12/14/2018

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is scheduled to take up a proposal that would establish flying a Palestinian flag to be an offense requiring a one-year prison term. The bill is sponsored by MK Anat Berko (Likud).

Technically the bill makes it illegal to fly the flag of any country or entity that is “unfriendly” to the State of Israel. Any country that fails to recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is classified as “unfriendly” by the bill.

Ms. Berko has been talking about the proposal in media interviews as an effort to ban the Palestinian flag.


An Extra-governmental State for Settlers? (Really.)

Last updated: 12/14/2018

The Knesset’s Constitution Committee is scheduled to continue work on Tuesday on a bill to transfer control of most of the land designated as Area C in the West Bank from the Civil Administration into the hands of the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). This is a radical bill that hasn’t gotten much attention yet, but that would dramatically contravene international law.

The Civil Administration is a part of the Israeli Defense Ministry responsible for the government of the occupied territories.

The Settlement Division of the WZO is not technically an arm of the Israeli government, but it is fully funded by the Israeli government, charged with supporting settlement growth in the West Bank, and responsible for much of the illegal settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank. As a private, non-governmental body, the WZO has been able to shield settlement activity from the transparency required of Israeli government bodies.

This bill, proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and officially endorsed by the cabinet, would reclassify rural lands that are not owned by private deed to be managed by the WZO Settlement Division. In effect, the Israeli government would be handing over control of these lands to the entity known to be responsible for illegal settlement activities.

If you’re thinking that this seems shocking and totally illegal under international law, you’d be correct. From Peace Now: “It is important to note that according to international law, the occupying power must not grant non-governmental organizations the authority to manage lands in the occupied territory.”

At a committee session on the bill last month, the representatives of several ministries and of the Attorney General, expressed their opposition to the bill. They also stated that staff work is underway to transfer authority over the land to the WZO through an administrative process.

More Resources:

  • Bill text (Hebrew – MS Word doc): view
  • Peace Now report on the legislation: view
  • Background on the WZO and the Settlement Division: view


Want to move to a small town? Not so fast (if you’re Arab or Mizrahi)

Last updated: 12/14/2018

Two key hurdles were passed this week by a bill that would allow towns with up to 700 residents to require people who want to move into those towns to be vetted by an “Admissions Committee” appointed by the local government.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved it on Sunday, and on Wednesday the bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum. It now goes to committee.

Historically, Admissions Committees have enforced discrimination against Arab and Mizrahi citizens of Israel. Proponents of the Nation-State Law tried to include a clause guaranteeing a right for towns to discriminate against someone of a different religious or cultural background. Immense blowback to that provision forced the coalition to drop that explicit right and replace it with language recognizing that Jewish settlement is a national value of the state.

Current law allows town with 400 residents or fewer to have Admissions Committees.


Dismantling Democratic Checks and Balances — Turning Government Attorneys into Political Appointments

Last updated: 11/30/2018

This is a development in the ongoing efforts to allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisors, which would turn an important check on executive power into a political appointment.

On Monday, the Knesset’s State Controller Committee will hold a discussion on the status of the gatekeepers charged with acting as a check on executive overreach. The context of this session is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s criticism of Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and Shaked’s bill to allow ministers to select the attorneys that serve as legal advisers for their ministries.

Unlike most Knesset Committees, this committee is chaired by a member of the opposition, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), and acts as a bully pulpit to draw attention to failures within the executive.

Shaked’s bill allowing ministers to pick their own legal advisors has already passed its first reading.

These advisers establish the legal boundaries of a minister’s authority and have the power to block a minister’s decision if found unlawful.

Currently, ministers cannot choose their own legal advisers. Decisions about how to staff these positions are made by a committee of professional civil servants. Under the new bill, the minister would select most members of a new committee, which would then prepare a slate of candidates for the legal adviser position. The minister then chooses one candidate from this slate.

This bill would remove one of the checks and balances of Israel’s democracy by effectively turning this position into a political appointment. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has expressed his opposition to the bill, noting that the proposal would undermine the independence of his office. A number of retired High Court justices, former attorney generals, and other prominent Israeli legal figures have also expressed their opposition. Yitzhak Zamir, a former High Court justice and attorney general, has called the proposal “a draft law against the rule of law.”

More Resources:

  • Analysis by the Israel Democracy Institute (PDF, Hebrew): view
  • Text of bill (PDF, Hebrew): view
  • Current status of the bill (Hebrew): view


Netanyahu’s Coalition Narrows

Last updated: 11/30/2018

It is getting harder for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pass legislation in the Knesset due to two key developments:

First, the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman removes six key seats from the coalition’s guaranteed majority. Out of 120 seats, the coalition now has only 61. If the opposition stays united, a single defection can deny the government a win.

Second, as legislation to intimidate artists was proceeding to a vote last week, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon declared that he would not enforce party discipline with respect to this, or other controversial, legislation. Kahlon’s party controls 10 seats in the Knesset. When each of those votes is freed of coalition discipline, the coalition would need to bring in significant opposition votes to pass its agenda.

This will have a significant impact on the rest of the Knesset session and will likely mean that the coalition won’t be able to pass much of the legislation it planned to pass.


Intimidating Artists with “Loyalty” Tests

Last updated: 11/30/2018

Culture Minister Miri Regev’s flagship artist intimidation bill (also called “Loyalty in Culture”) hit a major roadblock on Monday. It had been scheduled for a final vote that day by the full plenum of the Knesset, but a series of surprise announcements left the coalition without the votes to pass it into law.

First, MK Benny Begin (Likud) announced that he would oppose the bill. Then, Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman said that his party would vote against the bill unless the coalition was also willing to support his bill to make capital punishment of terrorists easier. Finally, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon declared that he would not enforce party discipline with respect to this or other controversial legislation. This freed MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) – who had already made clear her opposition to the bill – to vote against it.

Kahlon’s announcement may also prevent the coalition from advancing other anti-democratic legislation, such as the proposal to subjugate legal advisers to politicians. Given that Lieberman’s defection from the coalition reduced its majority to just one vote, it is now far more difficult for the government to pass legislation.

Regev is apparently continuing work to see the bill progress. A recording of her requesting that a right-wing activist pressure Lieberman and Kahlon to bring the bill up to a vote after Chanukah was made public on Army Radio on Thursday.

At a session of the Education Committee earlier this month, the opposition voiced its opposition to the bill. MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) summed up the bill’s goals: “The bill’s goal is to harm freedom of culture and art in Israel, prevent film funds and culture and art institutions from financing critical works, prevent the equal and free funding of works in Israel and censor and control art in order to bring about the dissolution of Israeli democracy.”

The bill, which has the support of the cabinet, establishes criteria on the content of cultural activity that can receive state funding, and it assigns control over such designations to the Minister of Culture herself—thereby circumventing existing mechanisms that restrain political interference in decision making. This threatens to be a severe blow to freedom of expression in Israel. It grants the minister the power to censor Israeli culture, and beyond that explicit power, risks creating a chilling environment of self-censorship by cultural institutions that depend on the Culture Ministry for funding. The bill is widely seen as a grave politicization of the ministry budgets out of step with democratic standards for public support for arts and culture, and corrosive to Israel’s culture of free expression.

NIF Grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel assesses that the bill is illegal and unconstitutional as it “infringes on the freedom of expression in violation of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, in his capacity as Acting Attorney General, wrote a formal opinion opposing the law. His letter is an indication that the attorney general would not defend this legislation in court. In his letter, Nitzan wrote: “The proposed amendment raises serious legal difficulties, including a violation of the freedom of expression and a ‘chilling effect’ inherent in the proposed amendment.”

More Resources:

  • Opposition Factions Explain Reservations to the Bill: view
  • Haaretz Editorial: In Israel It’s Loyalty or Culture
  • AG Defends Deputy Embattled for Criticizing ‘Loyalty’ Bill: view
  • Text of legislation (PDF): view
  • Ynet article about the opposition of the Attorney General: view


Letting Settlers Build in East Jerusalem Flashpoint Silwan Neighborhood

Last updated: 11/16/2018

On Thursday, the Knesset’s Interior Committee approved a bill that would allow for the expansion of a settlement in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The final vote on the bill in the Knesset plenary is expected to take place on Monday.

Settlers have long targeted Silwan because of its proximity to the Old City and because it lies on top of the oldest known archeological ruins of Jerusalem. Past settler activity in the area has turned it into a tense neighborhood and a flashpoint for settler violence.

The bill clears away restrictions that are intended to protect architectural sites, and which have been used to prevent Palestinian construction in the area. It is not applicable to all land in Israel, only to a single designated park in Silwan, authority over which has already been ceded to the Elad settler organization.

Betty Hirshman of the Israeli group Ir Amim explains that the bill is the “ultimate symbol of discrimination in planning in East Jerusalem, where a mere 15% of the land is allocated for Palestinian building; and where, in the years since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, 12 Israeli neighborhoods/settlements have been built – but not a single major Palestinian one.”

More Resources:


No Constitutional Protection for People Seeking Refuge

Last updated: 11/2/2018

On Sunday, the Cabinet’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation is scheduled to vote on legislation that would allow the Knesset to overturn High Court decisions in matters related to the government’s treatment of people seeking asylum in Israel.

The bill, sponsored by Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home), would establish that a new law on this matter, if passed by a majority of 61 MKs, would be exempt from a judicial finding that it violates rights guaranteed in Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

Once approved at the cabinet level, the bill would proceed to the Knesset where it would be guaranteed an automatic majority.

The proposal is strongly opposed by Israel’s Attorney General. MK Benny Begin (Likud) has also spoken out about it in scathing terms.

More Resources:

  • Bill text (Hebrew): view
  • News article (Hebrew) on opposition to the legislation: view


Criminalizing Political Speech

Last updated: 10/18/2018

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is set to review legislation on Sunday that establishes criminal penalties – including stiff jail terms – for Israelis who, by having contact with foreign governments or International Governmental Organizations, “undermine the interests of the State of Israel.”

This new limitation on speech comes in the form of an amendment to existing law that already bars Israelis from undermining relations between Israel and foreign countries. The existing law, however, does not punish those who did not seek to undermine Israel’s relations. Moreover, the existing law does not talk of Israel’s “interests,” which the amendment does not define.

The amendment establishes a jail term of seven years for anybody who violates the law unintentionally, ten years for those who do it on purpose, and a life sentence for repeat offenders.

The move is a transparent attempt to delegitimize and intimidate Israel’s human rights community, especially in light of the testimony of B’Tselem chief Hagai El-Ad to the UN Security Council on Thursday. Whether or not it becomes law, the legislation provides a vehicle to frame his actions as somehow unpatriotic and to stoke anger against him among the right-wing base.

More resources:


Is the Strategic Affairs Ministry Outsourcing Production of Its Blacklist?

Last updated: 10/18/2018

The reliance of the Israeli government on materials provided by the Canary Mission, an online blacklist of college students who criticize Israel, in their detention of American graduate student Lara Alqasem will be the subject of discussion at the Knesset’s Transparency Committee.

Among those invited to brief the committee members are representatives of several ministries, as well as the Mitvim think tank and Women Wage Peace.

More Resources:


Compelling Loyalty from the Arts, Part II

Last updated: 10/18/2018

On Monday, October 15, the Knesset passed legislation that provides more government control over the allocation of funds that support the production of Israeli cinema.

Currently, there are a number of organizations that receive government funds and which allocate funds to support films produced in Israel. Specifically, the bill would give the Minister of Culture more power to determine who sits on the boards of these bodies by establishing more stringent term limits and giving the minister new powers to extend the terms of board members.

The governing coalition moved swiftly to pass the bill. It was approved by committee and the plenum on the same day.

More resources:

  • Text of bill (Hebrew): view


Whitewashing Settlement Outposts

Last updated: 10/18/2018

Last Monday the Interior Committee held a session discussing the Cabinet decision which enables retroactive legalization of construction of settlement outposts, or of construction within existing settlements, that had been undertaken in violation of Israeli law.

Among those invited to comment before the committee are a host of government offices and various organizations representing the settlers. Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Israel Democracy Institute have also been invited.

More resources:

  • Text of the Cabinet decision (Hebrew): view