(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
More than two months since the 20th Knesset was inaugurated, there is still no Ethics Committee to which MKs can lodge complaints about inappropriate behavior by their colleagues.
The problem became especially acute this week in light of reports that Likud MK Oren Hazan allegedly pimped out prostitutes and provided crystal meth to Israeli tourists while managing a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria.
Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the name of her faction Wednesday, demanding that he reinstate the committee immediately.
“These serious accusations stain the entire Knesset and should be investigated immediately,” she wrote. Michaeli added that Edelstein’s suspension of Hazan from his position as deputy Knesset speaker is not punishment is not enough.
“We, the Zionist Union, demand an immediate discussion of the matter in the Ethics Committee,” she continued. “I call on you to immediately establish the Ethics Committee so that we can submit a complaint, as stated.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Edelstein had not responded to the letter.
The Knesset Speaker personally chooses the members of the Ethics Committee, and a source close to him pointed out on Wednesday that the panel is generally formed last of all Knesset committees, adding that Edelstein is working on it.
However, despite their complete authority on the matter, Knesset Speakers tend to take factions’ preferences into consideration, and a senior Knesset source said Thursday that disagreements in the opposition are the reason for the delay in forming the committee.
In response to that accusation, Michaeli’s spokeswoman said: “it’s the Knesset Speaker’s prerogative to found the committee with whoever he chooses. It has nothing to do with us.” The spokeswoman did not have an answer as to how the Knesset Ethics Committee could punish an MK for something he did before being elected, saying only that it should look into the topic.
Though the Zionist Union seeks to lodge a complaint against Hazan, party head and opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Tuesday that he would allow the opposition to “offset” the Likud MK’s absence if needed, in support of Edelstein’s efforts to rehabilitate 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.
Following criticism of the move from within his faction, including by MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Tzipi Livni, Herzog clarified that he would only help the coalition for two weeks while it figures out how to deal with Hazan.
On Thursday, Ometz – Citizens for Good Governance and Social and Legal Justice also wrote a letter to Edelstein asking him to remove Hazan from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, because the MK refuses to take a polygraph test.
“A few days ago, you took the right step in suspending MK Oren Hazan from his job as deputy Knesset speaker until the allegations that were brought up against him are investigated,” wrote Ometz chairman Arye Avneri. “In light of the fact that MK is avoiding taking a lie detector test, you should suspend him from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which deals with sensitive issues. Its members should be free of any stresses and inappropriate phenomena.”