Israel's parliament early Wednesday passed a law, allowing it to oust a sitting legislator, despite massive criticism by rights and pro-democracy groups.

After hours of debate, 62 lawmakers voted in favour of the Dismissal Law and 47 against, a parliament statement said.

Eleven members of the 120-seat Knesset abstained or were not present.

Under the new law, a three-quarter majority can oust a lawmaker who they say has incited racism or armed attacks against Israel.

The ousted Knesset member would automatically be replaced by the next person on the list of his or her party.

The impeachment procedure may not be started during an election campaign.

Critics slammed the law as the latest in a series of anti-democratic moves by members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government.

They said it was designed to target primarily Arab lawmakers, in particular the outspoken Hanin Zoabi.

Right-wing legislators have called Zoabi a "traitor" because she participated in a 2010 attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and because she has called Israeli soldiers "murderers."

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) called the law "one of the most serious legislative proposals in recent years," which "harms the very building blocks of democracy."

Arab Knesset members "whose actions and remarks do not find favour with the political majority" would be the first to be harmed, it said. The law gave coalition lawmakers the powers of "prosecutors and judges," it charged.

"There will be a big stain on the Knesset if we allow this law to pass," opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned shortly before the vote.

Defending the law, Nissan Slomiansky of the far-right Jewish Home coalition party said: "The Knesset will no longer be a cover for terrorism and racism."

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