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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Letting Settlers Build in East Jerusalem Flashpoint Silwan Neighborhood

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

No Constitutional Protection for People Seeking Refuge

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

Compelling Loyalty from the Arts

Criminalizing Political Speech

Is the Strategic Affairs Ministry Outsourcing Production of Its Blacklist?

Compelling Loyalty from the Arts, Part II

Whitewashing Settlement Outposts



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:


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

Last updated: 11/2/2018

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

The Settlement Division of the WZO is not technically an arm of the Israeli government, but it is charged by the government with supporting settlement growth in the West Bank, is fully funded by the Israeli government, and is 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 Settlement Division. In effect, the Israeli government would behanding 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 week, 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.

MKs from the Jewish Home said that they would schedule a vote on the bill at the committee level for the coming week if the government could not show that they had made progress in transferring control of the land. A session at the committee level is now scheduled for Monday.

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


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


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

Last updated: 11/2/2018

On Tuesday, the Knesset’s Constitution Committee will review a bill, proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, to allow ministers to select the attorneys that serve as legal advisers for their ministries.

The bill has already passed its first reading. Once approved by committee, the bill will need to be approved one more time by the full Knesset plenary.

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 (Hebrew): view
  • Text of bill (Hebrew): view
  • Current status of the bill (Hebrew): view


Compelling Loyalty from the Arts

Last updated: 11/16/2018

Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports, Miri Regev is currently pushing through Knesset her “Loyalty in Culture” Bill, her latest assault in her war on cultural institutions and artists in Israel. The Knesset Education Committee is scheduled to continue voting on amendments to the bill on Monday and Tuesday.

Once it is passed in committee, it can be passed into law by a vote of the full Knesset plenary. The coalition is expected to pass it in the committee and in the plenary on the same day.

At a session of the committee last week, 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


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