Hackles were raised on both sides of the political spectrum on Tuesday over a new bill proposing individuals who visit enemy nations without the necessary authorizations will henceforth be declared ineligible to run for parliament.
The bill passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum – with 63 voting in favor and 16 objecting. Three MKs abstained – including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On.
Olmert and Bar-On's decided to abstain despite a past government vote in favor of the proposal, which was authored by MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union – NRP) and Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beitenu) following the Azmi Bishara affair.
MK Tartman hailed the vote: "Finally we see the Knesset reflecting what the majority in Israel longs for. With this bill we begin the process of regaining our self respect and fortitude as a nation and as a people."
MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) slammed Olmert's decision to abstain as one motivated by political considerations rather than policy-driven ones. "From amidst his political wretchedness," he said, "Olmert is trying to cling to any sliver of support, making gestures even to anti-Zionist factions in the hopes they can prolong his survival even by mere days. It is surprising that while the majority of Kadima members supporting this bill, the prime minister abstained. It would appear that he has given up the search for supporters even in his own party."
MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) slammed the bill as inherently racist. "The appalling surge of racist bills being approved by the Knesset has reached a new apex with the passing of this proposal with the coalition's blessing," he charged.
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List – Ta'al) accused "corrupt MKs" of seeking "a Knesset without Arabs. Fellow party member Talab al-Sana said: "This is a primeval bill, tantamount to political persecution and indicative of the depths to which the Knesset has sunk."
MK Orlev rejected the claims: "Visits to enemy nations constitute rallying in support of terror attacks against Israel. The Bishara affair and the incitement voiced by some of the Knesset's Arab members, like those who traveled to Syria and met with Hamas leaders – that does not fall under the category of free speech but rather an explicit show of support for armed attacks against Israel and encouraging terror against its citizens."