Lobbyists are only a small part of the pressures MKs face from interest groups,
panelists at a conference hosted by the NGO Progressive Democracy said on
Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee chairwoman Einat
Wilf (Independence), lobbyist Tzach Borovich – banned from the Knesset for two
years following a televised exposé on lobbying, Progressive Democracy CEO Shabi
Gatenio and The- Marker reporter Tzvika Zerahia, who has extensively covered the
issue of lobbyists, participated in the discussion at the Rosa Luxembourg
Foundation in Tel Aviv.
The panelists’ stances on lobbying differed, from
Borovich who defended his trade, to Gatenio who advocated for all paid lobbyists
to be banned, yet all agreed that lobbyists represent a fraction of the
pressures MKs face from special interest groups, especially large
“Tycoons never rest; they just learned to work
underground,” Zerahia said.
“Official lobbyists are listed on the Knesset
website, but there are unofficial ones.
Party activists pressure MKs to
work for this tycoon or the other, and the MK needs that activist for the next
Wilf said that ministers and their representatives meet with
committee chairmen to promote their own interests and pressure them not to
change government bills.
Borovich explained that paid lobbyists – working
for corporations or NGOs – are easily identifiable by their orange name tags,
which they are required to wear in the Knesset, but a former MK who represents a
corporation or other special interest can always enter the
“It’s easy to get into the Knesset. A party activist can come
in because an MK arranged it, and no one knows who he is representing and why he
came,” the lobbyist said.
Borovich was filmed discussing his successes as
a corporate lobbyist by a hidden camera for the investigative TV show Uvda in
February, citing a case in which he convinced MKs to pass a law requiring
drivers to have reflective vests in their cars. Borovich represented 3M, which
manufactures the vests. He was banned from the Knesset for two years soon after,
and regulations for lobbyists were made stricter.
For example, lobbyists
are not allowed in the MK cafeteria, the Knesset Research and Information Center
or in the Knesset Speaker’s Office. In addition, MKs must report any documents
lobbyists give them.
Management consultant and social activist Sarah
Bechor, who moderated the discussion, called for further transparency, but Wilf
said she was unsure that would help the situation.
Gatenio pointed out
that Government Services Minister Michael Eitan publicizes his schedule, and
called on other MKs to follow suit. He also said MKs should be required to
publicize the emails and text messages they exchange with lobbyists.
assumption that we’ll pass one bill and this will stop is wrong,” the
Independence MK said.
“We always need to solve new problems. When there
is a lot of transparency, there is a greater effort to hide. Wikileaks has made
governments more secretive.”
Zerahia pointed to efforts in the Knesset
and by NGOs to regulate lobbying, which he said are a result of last summer’s
Since then, “tycoons who used to enter the Knesset with
lobbyists are now embarrassed, and the lobbyists represent them.”
Borovich was banned from the Knesset for two years, lobbyists don’t enter the
cafeteria or committee meetings – but the party continues. They still have
cellphones,” Zerahia stated.
According to Wilf, there are two reasons for
corporate lobbyists’ disproportionate representation: Motivation and
If a bill is proposed that will save the average citizen NIS
1,000 a year, it could lead a business owner to lose millions, Wilf explained.
As such, the person who will lose millions is more motivated to hire lobbyists
and work to sway the law in his favor.
“The losers know who they are and
what they’ll lose. The winners are supposed to be the public – but they don’t
even know if and when they win,” she said.
“The person who may save NIS
1,000 over time is not motivated to pressure MKs.”
The second problem,
Wilf said, is access to MKs. The lobbyists are paid to be in the Knesset, and
start conversations with MKs who are walking from one meeting to
“Some lobbyists knock on my door so often, that my assistants
call them Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Wilf joked, explaining that the result is that
MKs hear the lobbyists’ case, whether they agree with it or not.
public, the Education Committee chairwoman said, does not have equal access to
make an opposite claim. A very small percentage of people write letters to MKs,
and the public does not realize that many legislators are happy to meet with
Borovich also pointed to the lack of public knowledge on the issue
of lobbyists as a major problem.
“After Uvda I learned about the
difference between transparency and disclosure,” Borovich explained. “I worked
under regulation, according to laws and rules. I put my interests out on the
table whenever I worked with someone – but there still is no public
The former lobbyist explained that he gives lectures in
various forums, including to political science students, and is amazed to see
the public’s ignorance on interests are promoted to the government and
“The public is not aware enough of this phenomenon,” Borovich
said. “We need to make it more accessible.”