Israel Knesset passes legislation allowing convicts to serve in government

Israel Knesset passes legislation allowing convicts to serve in government
Far-right parties in Israel are set to take the reins of power. The consequences could be far-reaching.
3 min read
27 December, 2022

Israel's parliament on Tuesday passed legislation permitting convicted individuals to serve as government ministers if no time was done for the offence, paving way for Benjamin Netanyahu to form his new government.

The legislation speaks directly to Arye Deri, who was convicted of tax fraud earlier this year and is currently serving a suspended sentence.

Deri, the leader of the Jewish ultra-religious Shas party, is slated to be the minister of the interior and health for the first two years of the government term. After that, he will become minister of finance.

The parliament also decreed legislation allowing two ministers to serve in the same ministry. The bill would allow far-right Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, or a person of his choosing, to head the body within the Israeli defence ministry that manages the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The role is subordinate to the minister of defence, who is likely to come from the Likud party. 

The bill gives Smotrcih control of area C -- some sixty percent of the occupied West Bank -- where nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers and 300,000 Palestinians live. 

A third bill that would give Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben Gvir expanded powers over the police is set to be voted on later Tuesday. 

'Jewish supremacist'

MK Ofer Cassif harshly condemned the incoming government and the series of legislation it has sponsored, calling the Jewish Power and Religious Zionism parties "neo-nazis."

Cassif, from the leftist Democratic Front for Peace and Equality party, also known as al-Jabha, likened the atmosphere in Israel today to Germany of the mid-1930s. 

"Smotrich is even worse than Ben Gvir; he believes in Jewish supremacy," Cassif told The New Arab

Ben Gvir, who will soon assume the role of minister of national security, wants to relax further the rules of engagement for the Israeli forces dealing with Palestinians. 

The details of the legislation are still vague, but many observers believe that the Israeli army and police are often too ready to respond violently at the slightest provocation. 

Ben Gvir has also demanded shielding police and the army from investigations and trials if incidents occur, such as wilful killings, while operating in the occupied Palestinian territories. According to Israeli media, this has raised concerns within the army's high command because it would leave the door open for the International Criminal Court to do its investigations and risk putting Israelis on trial in The Hague. 

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Israel responds to international criticism by saying it will investigate the incidents. But, according to multiple monitors, Israel's military investigations are not intended to achieve justice or deter troops from committing further harm.

International law academic and practitioner Dr Valentina Azarova believes human rights monitors are mindful of the results of Israel's investigations. 

"ICC knows that the Israeli mechanisms have failed repeatedly to undertake independent investigations, let alone bring about prosecutions."

Azarova lived in the occupied West Bank for a number of years and has vastly researched the topic. 

"[the Israeli military] have structural biases that preclude their ability to investigate certain ranks, officers, and units and particular operations," she added. 

However, many doubt that the ICC would be quick to intervene, considering political pressure that could protect Israel.

This year has been the bloodiest in over a decade for Palestinians, with more than 150 Palestinians having been killed in Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank. Twenty Israelis were killed in the same period. 

The legislation "affirms a long-standing culture of impunity in Israel around international crimes," Azarova pointed out.  

"It should signal to the ICC that they have a clear green light to prosecute since Israel is unable to do so," she added.