Analysis: Israel can't get rid of its 'bad boy' MKs

Despite an embarrassing week for the Knesset, misbehaving MKs are likely to stay put.

By
November 27, 2015 05:29
Likud MK Oren Hazan (R) and Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal

Likud MK Oren Hazan (R) and Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM,FACEBOOK)

 
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This isn't the Knesset's finest hour, to put it mildly.

Within less than 12 hours of each other, two very embarrassing incidents came to light and became the big news stories of the day, with every channel, station, website and news breathlessly reporting the story.

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"SHAME," read the front page of Yediot Aharonot the next morning, bearing the photos of MKs Oren Hazan (Likud) and Yinon Magal (Bayit Yehudi), who caused the scandals.

The question that seemed to be asked over and over again, whether by talk radio hosts or by legislators was: "How can we get rid of them?"

And the answer is, in short, that you basically can't, and even the long-shot scenario in which you can probably won't happen anytime soon.

According to Basic Law: The Knesset, an MK can only be removed from office if he or she is convicted in a final ruling of a crime with moral turpitude. A lawmaker can be suspended until the end of legal proceedings against him or her, but only if he or she was convicted by at least one court of a crime with moral turpitude.

While this may frustrate anyone who thinks members of our Legislative Branch should have a modicum of dignity, it is meant to protect citizens' democratic decisions and not allow arbitrary or political considerations take precedence over their vote.



The longer answer is different for each lawmaker.

Magal came under scrutiny on Tuesday after Racheli Rottner, a humorist who was his subordinate at Walla News, where he was editor-in-chief, wrote a Facebook post about Magal's unwanted advances.

Rottner often writes crude jokes - a fact on which  those who sought to blame the victim immediately jumped - but even she was deeply uncomfortable with Magal's references to her figure and the effect it had him, because, well, he wasn't joking. He was a married man, about to run for the Knesset in a religious party, propositioning and making explicit sexual comments to a religious, married woman.

Magal immediately apologized, calling it a "conversation between friends," and soon after another worker at Walla came forward, saying that in her case, Magal went beyond comments and inappropriately touched her.

It took almost a full day, but Bayit Yehudi went into damage control and demoted Magal, a personal appointment by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to the party's list, from his position as faction chairman. The party's MKs tried to spin Magal's apology and demotion as signs of true repentance by the alleged sexual harasser and said now is the time to give him another chance, wait to see what the authorities have to say, and not tar and feather him in the town square, known in 2015 as Facebook.

Whether the police or Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein will open criminal proceedings remains to be seen. As of Thursday, police were checking if there are grounds to open a criminal investigation.

The Knesset Ethics Committee cannot do anything about Magal's case, because the alleged incidents took place before he was elected, and because they cannot discuss allegations that are being examined by the police.

In the meantime, Magal remains an MK, and his faction does not appear to be pressuring him to quit.

Hazan already had pretty poor reputation before this week, since within weeks of his election, a series of damning reports came out about him.

The first, by Channel 2's Amit Segal, alleged that Hazan procured prostitutes and crystal meth for Israel patrons of a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria that he managed. Hazan is suing Segal for libel.

On Channel 10, women whose faces were pixelated and voices changed accused Hazan of sexually harassing them when they worked at a Tel Aviv bar he owned and managed.

And anyone can see photos on Facebook of Hazan behaving uncouthly, for example, of him dancing on a bar while shirtless.

At the time, many asked what could be done, and calls to somehow remove Hazan from the Knesset were heard. However, the only way someone can be removed from the Knesset is if he or she is convicted of a crime, and the Bulgarian authorities have not shown any interest in prosecuting Hazan nor have his former employees filed a complaint to the police.

The Channel 2 report came out a day after Hazan had been appointed deputy Knesset speaker, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein found that he did not have the legal authority to strip Hazan of the title. Instead, he has not given Hazan one shift as deputy speaker since. A member of Hazan's staff threatened to dig up dirt about Edelstein; thus far he does not seem to have succeeded.

The Knesset Ethics Committee could not even reprimand Hazan, because the allegations were of things that took place before he was elected.

This week, Hazan seemed to offend people across the political spectrum when he seemingly taunted MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), who has muscular dystrophy, for having difficulty pressing the button to vote. "Seemingly," because he claims that was not his intention, though it certainly seemed like it was to the MKs and journalists present.

Hazan's father, former MK Yehiel Hazan, was convicted of double-voting, and when he saw MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) helping Elharar vote on the budget last Thursday, the Likud lawmaker took it personally and began shouting. Elharar burst into tears and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over to comfort her.

Late Monday night, Hazan shouted across the plenum "Why isn't Esawi helping you?" and an uproar began in the plenum and the public. Netanyahu even called Hazan the next day to reprimand him.

Edelstein was, once again, stuck having to explain to people he doesn't have the power they think he does. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid asked Edelstein to remove Hazan from the plenum, while he was still shouting, but because it was during voting, the Speaker could not even kick him out temporarily.

Edelstein called for the Likud to take concrete action to punish Hazan, because he has done all he can.

Such actions can include making him feel unwanted by pressuring him to quit, removing him from committees - he is a member of five, including the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense -  block him from submitting bills or motions to the agenda under the party's allotment, not include him in delegations abroad or even leave the plenum when he gives speeches.

Still, no one in Likud seems to be rushing to do more against Hazan. Other than Netanyahu, few in the party have even managed a tsk-tsk in public, and Edelstein is the only one to strongly criticize Hazan.

One reason for the silence could be the Hazan family's power in the Likud central committee.

Another reason could be that there are only 61 members of the coalition and every vote counts, so both Magal and Hazan have disproportionate power to hurt the coalition. Plus, both Likud and Bayit Yehudi have a high ratio of ministers to MKs, so they have relatively few lawmakers in committees and can't afford to sacrifice the ones who misbehave.

All this leaves Magal and Hazan in the same place as they were at the beginning of the week. Even if their reputations, and that of the Knesset, took a beating, they'll remain MKs for the near future.

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