Think About It: MK Miri Regev: What is all the rumpus about?

It is not even clear whether there are ethical grounds for reprimanding Regev. She 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.

November 3, 2013 21:46
Miri Regev at the Knesset Interior and Environmental Affairs Committees, April 17, 2013.

Miri Regev 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Knesset)

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 scandalous conduct.

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.

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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 implement policy.

Naturally the mayor will want to get rid of the official.

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 Gapso.

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 heads.

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 friend.

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 committee.

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 deliberation.

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 law.

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.

My conclusion is that this is a clear case concerning norms of behavior, and general principles regarding what “is done,” and what “is not done.”

One 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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