MK Oren Hazan (Likud) threatened to dig up and disseminate dirt about Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Tuesday, after the latter suspended the former from serving as deputy Knesset speaker until further notice, following a report that he managed a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria, pimping prostitutes and providing crystal meth to Israeli tourists.
Edelstein discussed the situation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then met with Hazan, telling the MK that if he does not suspend himself from the deputy Knesset speaker position, Edelstein will take action. The Speaker also advised Hazan to "take five polygraph tests" to prove his innocence.
Soon after, Hazan wrote on twitter that he would leave the Knesset early on Tuesday to see his lawyers, making it seem like it was a one-time absence and not that he would resign or take a break as deputy Knesset speaker.
Edelstein then instructed the Knesset Secretariat not to assign Hazan any shifts as deputy speaker until further notice. A Knesset Speaker does not have the authority to officially fire a deputy from the position, though 61 MKs can vote to do so, but Edelstein effectively suspended Hazan from the job.
Hours later, Hazan called Edelstein's personal phone number and had his assistant threaten that the MK would dig up scandalous stories about the Speaker and release them to the press.
As for the practicalities of Hazan's punishment, at Edelstein's request, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) agreed to have an opposition MK "offset" Hazan's absence until further notice, in support of the Speaker's efforts to restore the Knesset's dignity. "Offsetting" is a practice in the Knesset whereby an MK skips a vote so the absence of a lawmaker on the other side of the aisle doesn't count.
Herzog's political rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) came out against the decision, saying "Netanyahu and the Likud should have to live with the embarrassment and the disgrace. There's no need for the opposition to clean up after them."
On Tuesday morning, Hazan unequivocally denied the allegations and threatened to sue Channel 2 and its political reporter Amit Segal for reporting them.
Channel 2 News broadcast an investigative report on Monday night, following up on a report from earlier this year that Hazan, a deputy Knesset speaker, managed the Sunny Beach Casino in the Bulgarian resort town Burgas, and didn’t work in a hotel that happened to have a casino, as the MK claimed.
Israeli tourists who said they visited the casino told Segal and others that they did crystal meth with Hazan while there, and the now-MK hired prostitutes for them from a nearby strip club, called “Red Roses.”
The report featured a recording of a phone call with a man saying he was Hazan’s driver, who said he would drive to Red Roses and ask for “good looking girls with big tits” to bring back to the casino.
There was also video of a woman who Segal reported is the “madam” of Red Roses who called Hazan “Oren the Big Boss,” corroborated the stories of him bringing women to the casino, and giggled when she was told that the “big boss” is now in politics.
On Monday morning, Hazan called the report “detestable, baseless lies,” and had his attorney send a pre-lawsuit warning letter to Channel 2 and Segal.
“I say this unequivocally: There were no drugs. There was no pimping women,” he said.
Hazan, whose father, former MK Yehiel Hazan, was convicted for double-voting on a bill in 2003, blamed the media, “which has yet to accept the Likud and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s victory” saying that it is “amazing to what level reporters, anchors, editors and producers are willing to stoop.”
“I came to the Knesset to do important things for the People of Israel and the Land of Israel. I won’t let anyone sway me from my way,” he added.
In an interview with Army Radio, Hazan said he does not know any of the people or recognize the places shown in the Channel 2 Report and added that he would be willing to undergo a polygraph test.
As for photographs of him surrounded by scantily-clad women, Hazan said Channel 2 got them from his Facebook page, the women are his friends, and if he was doing something illegal, he wouldn’t have put the pictures online.
Likud officials furiously worked on finding a way to remove Hazan from the Knesset as of Tuesday evening, hoping to pass a proposal to lower the amount of votes needed to remove a lawmaker's immunity from 61 to a simple majority. Once Hazan's immunity is revoked, he can be put on trial.
Hazan can be brought up on criminal charges, even though the actions all allegedly took place abroad, if the State Attorney's Office decides it is in the public interest to prosecute him and is able to gather sufficient evidence from Bulgaria.
An MK can only be made to leave the Knesset if he is convicted of a crime with moral turpitude. However, the Knesset Ethics Committee, which has not been reinstated since the election, can suspend him from all activities except voting.
If Hazan leaves the Knesset, next on the Likud's list is Sharren Haskel.
A senior Likud source called for Hazan to step down from his membership in legislative committees, including the prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Finance Committee, until his innocence is proven.
The Likud source called the story an embarrassment and said he had told Hazan, who gained a reputation as the class clown of the Knesset, long ago that he should lower his profile, but he didn’t.
Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women chairwoman Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said she is shocked by the reports and praised Edelstein's decision.
"Public representatives must meet a moral standard. The serious accusation of soliciting prostitutes cannot be connected to an MK's name. Prostitution shamefully takes advantage of the weakest members of our society...and has an impact on the way society views women and their job in society. Therefore, it simply cannot be that an MK, who is supposed to set an example for others, is involved in it," she stated.
Ruth Resnick, chairwoman of NGO No 2 Violence Against Women, demanded Hazan’s immediate suspension until an investigation of the pimping allegations is completed, and if Hazan is guilty, he should be removed from the Knesset.
Channel 1 News reported that when Hazan was elected, the Bulgarian embassy in Israel asked Edelstein's office to ensure that Hazan not be involved in any ties between the country's parliament and the Knesset.
Also Tuesday, Hazan became a member of the newly reinstated Knesset Committee for the War on Drugs.