Summing Up the Knesset's Summer Session

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Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer reflects on the Knesset's activity during the summer of 2008, suggesting that most of its members' energy was invested in dangerous, anti-democratic, disproportionate, offensive, and sometimes almost racist, legislation.

Will Rogers once said: "This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer." The Knesset's summer session, which opened after Pesach and closed on July 31st, caused many people in this country to feel the same way. Morbid curiosity is what led us to look daily for newspaper headlines recounting the Knesset's latest doings.

In retrospect, the Knesset accomplished much over the summer, and it's a shame that most of the energy of its members was invested in dangerous, anti-democratic, disproportionate, offensive, and sometimes almost racist, legislation. One example is the "Shai Dromi Law," an amendment to the Penal Code which exempts anyone who harms an intruder to his home, business or farm, from criminal responsibility. This law may increase the number of burglaries that end in bloodshed. Another contentious law was the "Azmi Bshara law," which prevents members of the Knesset from traveling to enemy states. This amendment is expected to land a severe blow to equal elections and Arab parliamentary representation as well as to the right of free travel, which is one of the rights guaranteed by Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

Another law which potentially threatens human rights is an amendment to the Civilian Damages Law, which de-facto exempts the state from compensating Palestinians, including innocent civilians, for damages caused to them as part of the war on terrorism. In 2006, a similar exemption was harshly criticized by Israel's Supreme Court, when a nine-judge panel invalidated a previous draft of the law, because it comprehensively and disproportionately prevented Palestinians from being compensated.

Auto-Mechanics in the territories have also been dealt a blow by a law that prohibits Israelis from utilizing their services, and sets the sentence for those who do at up to three years in prison. In addition to the ambiguity surrounding the question of what social value is upheld by this law, it seems that a sentence of three years for this crime is extremely disproportionate.

Another group of laws, which were passed or discussed in the Knesset, are part of the battle against the Supreme Court being waged by the Olmert government, led by Minister of Justice Prof. Daniel Friedman. A few days ago, the Knesset passed a bill, which states that a majority of seven out of nine members are required in order for the Judges' Election Committee to appoint a judge to the Supreme Court. The implication of this amendment is that the political representatives on the committee (two ministers and one MK from the coalition) can veto any nominee – something that can seriously jeopardize the Judiciary's independence. Minister Friedman has proposed several more bills, which have not yet been voted on by the Knesset. One of these bills would deny the Supreme Court the possibility of reviewing the legality of laws regarding entry into Israel and becoming an Israeli resident or citizen, by amending Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. The amendment bypasses a Supreme Court ruling, which nearly invalidated a decree preventing spouses of Israelis who live in the Occupied Territories from residing in Israel, and would have a major impact on the Supreme Court's authority, and would put the fundamental rights of many Israelis at risk.

Finally, we come to the bill which allows educational institutions to disregard the "Core Curriculum" created by the Ministry of Education. The bill passed about one month ago in a vote in the Knesset in which 23 MKs supported the bill, and none abstained or opposed it. The law dictates that the state will finance 60% of the cost of Ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, without the Ministry of Education having any influence over what is to be studied in these institutions. In other words, these institutions will be allowed to teach whatever they want, and still receive government funding. This law could potentially prevent Ultra-Orthodox children from acquiring the skills necessary to become citizens who are active and involved in Israeli society.

The Knesset undoubtedly did not sit quietly throughout this summer session. Unfortunately, many of the laws it passed over the past three months are dangerous and anti-democratic.