Two Zionist Union lawmakers received one of the Knesset Ethics Committee’s harshest punishments on Tuesday, in response to their accusing colleagues in the Likud of criminal activities.
MK Michal Biran was punished for calling MK Oren Hazan a “pimp,” even though the Ethics Committee had previously warned lawmakers against doing so; and MK Stav Shaffir for calling MK Miki Zohar “corrupt.”
Shaffir and Biran, both female lawmakers under 40, will not be able to participate in committee or plenum debates for a week, but they may enter the plenum to vote.
In November, Biran and Hazan got into a heated argument in the Knesset Finance Committee.
The Ethics Committee plans to review Hazan’s behavior at a later date, but he is expected to receive its harshest punishment of all, a six-month suspension.
It began when Hazan disagreed with a policy and called it “putting Zionism on sale.” In response, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, a member of the Ethics Committee, said: “No, no, you’re going to teach us what Zionism is?” to which Hazan replied: “I can teach you a lot of things. I don’t know if you can allow yourself to learn them.”
Biran interjected: “I don’t know what she’ll do with your expertise in casino management,” referring to a 2015 Channel 2 News report that Hazan managed a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria, pimping prostitutes and providing methamphetamine to Israeli tourists, and using drugs himself. Hazan sued Channel 2 for libel, and the court found that the reports related to prostitutes and drug use were defensible, but not that of dealing drugs.
Hazan said he wouldn’t let Biran be a dealer at his casino.
“I don’t want to tell you what else I wouldn’t let you do,” he added, apparently implying prostitution. “In this age, I don’t want to tell you what I wouldn’t let you do. You should sit in your corner.”
“You’re a pimp and bring shame to the Knesset,” Biran responded.
“Want to apply for a job?” Hazan asked. “I’m sure no one would look at you.”
Hazan also said that Biran is an unknown MK and using him to get attention.
The two lawmakers submitted complaints against each other to the Ethics Committee. According to Hazan’s complaint, Biran “libeled and slandered” him, and lowered the level of the discourse in the Knesset.
“This isn’t the first time she called me a pimp to get her 30 seconds of glory on television,” he said.
Biran told the Ethics Committee that Hazan was trying to humiliate the women in the committee. She pointed to past committee decisions against Hazan and said he “has chosen again and again to behave like a bully... with chauvinist statements to silence MKs.”
BIRAN SAID she plans to continue calling Hazan a pimp.
The Ethics Committee referred to a past decision in which it told MKs to stop calling Hazan or any other lawmaker a “pimp,” saying it disrespects the Knesset and its members.
Therefore, the committee decided to suspend Biran from the plenum and committees for a week, beginning on February 4.
Biran said she accepts her punishment, but will not apologize, because that would be lying. She also called on Hazan to stop embarrassing his wife, and said that within a few years, his infant daughter will also be embarrassed by him if he does not change his behavior.
As for Shaffir, in a December Finance Committee meeting, she and Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin called Zohar “corrupt” several times.
The claims were in response to Zohar holding meetings in his now-disbanded Knesset Committee for Distributive Justice about the construction of a power plant adjacent to the Karmei Gat neighborhood in Kiryat Gat, in which his wife owns property. Shaffir said he acted under a conflict of interests.
In July, the Ethics Committee told Zohar that he violated the Knesset’s ethics rules that ask lawmakers to avoid initiating proposals and discussions of matters in which they have a personal interest.
Jelin said his use of the word “corrupt” was wrong, and he takes it back. The Ethics Committee therefore chose not to penalize him.
Shaffir, however, rejected Zohar’s complaint, saying the word “corrupt” is used often in the Knesset, and taking steps against it is selective enforcement. In addition, she said that punishing the use of the word “corrupt” will limit the core of MKs’ work in expressing opinions on public affairs.
“My public stance that I seek to promote with full force is that an act like MK Zohar’s is clearly corruption, and I plan to continue crying out against all acts of corruption,” Shaffir wrote to the committee.
The ethics panel responded that, while use of the term “corrupt” is not unusual in the Knesset, there is a difference between saying it generally and accusing a specific MK of it.
The committee said it did not, in its ruling against Zohar, call him “corrupt,” and Shaffir cannot rely on the panel’s stance to support her statements. In fact, the committee added, it understood at the time that Zohar made a mistake because he was a new committee chairman.
In light of the above, and Shaffir’s intention to continue calling Zohar corrupt, and the fact that the committee came out against her use of harsh terms against colleagues in the past – such as calling Hazan a pimp in July 2017 – the Ethics Committee suspended her for a week, beginning on February 4.
Shaffir called the coalition “cowards who are trying to silence me,” and accused the Ethics Committee of bias, saying it “has never done anything to stop threats and sexist statements by coalition members.”