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Think about it: Alon Hassan and the lacuna in public norms
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
06/08/2014
Hassan’s list of alleged misdeeds is long: from running private companies doing business in the port to conducting campaigns of terror against port workers.
 
The decision two weeks ago to arrest the almighty Chairman of the Ashdod Port Workers Committee, and some of his cronies, on suspicion of bribery and corruption, his subsequent placement under house arrest, and his being banned from entering Ashdod Port for three months, are certainly good news - at long last.

The general public, which has been exposed to media reports about Hassan's scandalous conduct going back to 2006 - three years after he was first elected as the Committee's Chairman - might be surprised that it has taken so long, and that what is being investigated is a relatively narrow spectrum of suspicions.

Few would disagree with the former Chairwoman of the Israel Labor party Shelly Yacimovich that Hassan is a bully and a "rotten apple".  Her saying so publicly last year caused Hassan to register as a member of the Labor Party together with another six hundred Ashdod Port workers, in order to try to bring about Yacimovich's deposition from the Labor Party leadership in primaries that took place on November 21, 2013.  It is reported that he is now planning to use the same tactics in the Likud in order to weaken Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, who is determined to introduce a major reform in Israel's ports, which Hassan opposes, because one of its secondary goals is to break his destructive power in Ashdod Port.

The list of Hassan's misdeeds is pretty long: running private companies that do business in the port, using threats to get external firms doing business with the port to use the services of his companies, nepotism, fighting against the government's plan to reform Israel's ports using tactics that diverge from what is reasonable and even legal, stopping work in the port for many hours due to private celebrations, using a reign of terror against port workers, who disagree with his actions, to mention the main ones.

Against the background of this list one cannot help wondering why the current investigations against Hassan are relatively narrow in scope. There seem to be four main reasons for this.

The first reason is that the State Attorney's Office is wary of pressing charges against men like Hassan unless it is certain that it can get a conviction, and the reason it is sometimes difficult to get a conviction is that it is not easy to get witnesses to give solid testimony in court. The case against Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman came to naught against this background, and with regards to some of the charges brought against Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from which he was originally acquitted, it is only Shula Zaken's agreement to testify in order to save her own skin, that might finally make a conviction possible.

The second reason has to do with the fact that unlike most European countries where the Left is inclined to support the unions no matter what, and the Right is more than happy to attack, in Israel the Right - especially the Likud - is almost as committed to organized labor as is the Left, and is inclined to walk on eggshells to avoid clashing with it.

In the Likud, former Minister David Levy started his career as a construction worker and a Histadrut man. Former Minister of Finance Avraham Hirschson was head of the Likud inspired National Workers Union, and MK Haim Katz serves as Secretary of the National Union of the Israel Aircraft Industry workers in addition to his Knesset mandate.  As Hassan is threatening to do today, Haim Katz managed to build his own power in the Likud by registering thousands of IAI workers to the party, who vote en bloc at his command.

Finally, Israel Katz himself, though he is fighting a relentless war against Hassan, wrote a Facebook status on September 30, 2013, in which he attacked Shelly Yacimovich for her alleged hypocrisy regarding Hassan, saying that unlike her "I am opposed to an aggressive and monopolistic workers committee that takes advantage of its power to exploit the public. I am not against workers and not against organized labor."

The third reason is that some of the disturbing elements in Hassan's conduct are simply not specifically illegal. For example, apparently there is nothing in the law that states that the head of a workers committee must be present full time in the enterprise whose workers he represents, or that he is not allowed to run outside businesses, even if occasionally they are liable to place him in a conflict of interest situation. In fact, all the Israeli laws related to organized labor deal with workers' rights - not their duties and the duties of their representatives. Perhaps it is time that the law should be amended, and that additional enforcement measures should be given to the relevant authorities to enforce the relevant laws that do exist.

Finally the fourth reason is that, for reasons that I do not fully understand, we are very weak when it comes to certain universally accepted public norms. In Israeli public life the concept of "it isn't done" all too frequently does not seem to exist, and the fact that the treatment of Hassan until recently appeared to be with kid gloves, is undoubtedly related to this lacuna.

The fact that so far the Knesset has failed to adopt the new rules of ethics for MKs, proposed in 2006 by a Committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Prof. Yitzhak Zamir, which were based on norms that are accepted elsewhere in the democratic world without question, is further proof of the problem. This is certainly an issue that ought to be researched by sociologists and psychologists, but the fact remains that a problem exists, and men like Alon Hassan benefit from its existence, at least until they finally overstep the mark.

I believe that the news about the investigation opened against former Presidential candidate Binyamin (Fuad) Ben Eliezer on grounds that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Israeli tycoon of Georgian origin, Avraham Nanikashvili, whose name recently came up in connected with the Hassan affair, is also related to the problem of faulty public norms. This is true even if Ben Eliezer's claim that the money he received was nothing more than a legitimate loan from a friend to pay for his fancy new penthouse (which he apparently cannot really afford), turns out to be true.

While Ben Eliezer is certainly not in the same category as Alon Hassan, and will hopefully end up getting off the hook, in the case of Hassan it will hopefully be possible to press charges, and get the man convicted. He certainly does not deserve to be an influential figure in an important Government-owned enterprise. In addition, the workers of Ashdod Port deserve more respectable representation, even if at the cost of losing some of the outrageous perks they have got accustomed to, while the rest of us deserve sea ports that provide good service without succumbing to the whim of a thug.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.
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