Last week’s commotion in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee
is not the first time its chairman – MK Miri Regev (Likud) – has been accused of
This time the vivacious and provocative former IDF
spokesperson brought upon herself the wrath of many of her colleagues, and
caused quite a bit of discomfiture within the Knesset administration, as a
result of her decision to call a meeting of her committee to deliberate on
complaints of the mayor of Nazereth Ilit, Shimon Gapso, against the legal
adviser of his municipality.
In principle, the general problem raised is
a legitimate one, and certainly worthy of deliberation, and possibly even an
amendment to the relevant law.
The problem is what an elected mayor or
local council head who does not get on with one of the senior officials in his
municipality can do to ensure his poor relations with this official do not
damage the smooth operation of the municipality, and his own ability to
Naturally the mayor will want to get rid of the
However, for various reasons, including the desire to protect
whistleblowers, he is not always able to do so. In a business corporation such a
situation would be considered intolerable.
The problem with the case of
Gapso and his municipality’s legal adviser, attorney Olga Gordon, is that Gordon
was one of the whistleblowers regarding accusations of bribes allegedly taken by
the mayor, which are currently the subject of court proceedings against
The fact that Gapso was able to be reelected in the recent
municipal elections, even though the High Court of Justice had decided to remove
him from office before the elections, and might once again decide to remove him
until such time as his case is heard and decided, has created an impossible
situation, which suggests that perhaps the rules that apply to ministers in
similar circumstances should also apply to mayors and local council
Yisrael Beytenu head MK Avgidor Liberman is currently prevented
from serving in the government until such time as his trial concerning the
appointment of Ze’ev Ben-Ari as ambassador to Belarus ends. He will be able to
return to government office only if he is exonerated on all the charges, or is
found guilty only of charges that do not involve Regev could have got around the
criticism had she agreed to hold a more general deliberation, and had she
invited, in addition to Gapso, other mayors who had encountered similar problems
with their legal advisers (or other senior officials), but without the special
circumstances of Gapso’s case.
For example, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
had a long dispute with Shimon Habilio, the legal adviser of the Jerusalem
municipality until 2011, which was finally resolved with Habilio’s resignation.
Certainly Barkat could have shed light on the problem, and the deliberation
would not have been objectionable.
However, Regev refused to budge from
her original plan, and she made no secret of the fact that she was trying to
specifically assist Shimon Gapso – a political ally and personal
Regev, who might well believe that the accusations against Gapso
are totally unfounded, actively supported Gapso and his racist campaign
regarding the Arab inhabitants of Nazereth Illit in the recent municipal
elections, and has herself hit the headlines as a result of her anti-Arab and
anti-African refugee statements, and attempts to delegitimize anyone who
disagreed with her – including Meretz head Zehava Gal-On.
There is no
doubt that all the MKs who raised boisterous objections to her holding the
deliberation in her committee, and especially those who were subsequently thrown
out of the committee meeting for doing so – MKs Miki Rosenthal (Labor), Tamar
Zandberg (Meretz) and Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) – were not only protesting
against the committee dealing with the personal case of a mayor suspected of
taking bribes, and whose case is pending in court, but were also expressing
their revulsion regarding Regev’s and Gapso’s overt racism.
It should be
noted that it is not only members of the Opposition who disapprove of Regev’s
conduct. She is also criticized by quite a few Likud members, who consider her
conduct to be unnecessarily provocative, and in bad taste. It is also no
coincidence that despite her success in the Likud primaries before the elections
to the 19th Knesset, Netanyahu refused to appoint her minister or deputy
minister, which is why she finds herself “only” chairman of a Knesset
At the same time, it should be clearly stated that as a
committee chairman Regev has complete autonomy in deciding what issues to raise
in her committee, and even who to invite to participate in the
She is not even obliged to pay heed to the advice of her
committee’s legal adviser, or anyone else, as long as the issue being raised is
not sub judice (dealing with the merits of a case currently being deliberated in
court), does not involve state secrets, and is not in breach of any
Furthermore, one cannot accuse Regev of contravening the rule of sub
judice since the deliberation did not touch directly on the charges being
brought against Gapso, but only with one of the consequences of the situation
these charges have created.
It is not even clear whether there are
ethical grounds for reprimanding her. Regev might be accused of being in breach
of any one of several general principles that appear in Chapter 2 of the Rules
of Ethics for Members of the Knesset, including the expectation that they should
“act to advance the principle of the rule of law,” “uphold the dignity of the
Knesset,” “nurture public trust in the Knesset”, and “strive to serve as a
personal example for worthy behavior.”
However, since these principle are
very generally worded, I doubt whether the members of the Knesset Ethics
Committee – Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu), Hanna Swaid
(Hadash) and Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) – will manage to reach a clear-cut
conclusion, should they be called upon to deal with the case.
conclusion is that this is a clear case concerning norms of behavior, and
general principles regarding what “is done,” and what “is not done.”
of Israel’s problems in general and of the Knesset in particular is the absence
of consensus regarding such basic norms.
This is a serious problem.
Others might think it is little more than a storm in a teacup, and disregard the
fact that in this case the tea is hot, and might also leave stains.The
writer is a retired Knesset employee.
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