When MK Oren Hazan sauntered into Wednesday night’s Likud central committee meeting with a Cheshire-cat grin, it was immediately clear that serious debate on how the party should choose its candidates was over.
Earlier this week, a Channel 2 investigative report alleged that, while working in a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria, Hazan ordered prostitutes for Israeli tourists and bought them crystal meth, using it himself, as well. The MK denied the report but, on Wednesday, changed his mind about his previous offer to take a polygraph test, writing on Facebook: “I’m not lying about my past and I will not take a polygraph test every time someone tries to sully my good name.”
The press mobbed Hazan, with the clicking of cameras filling the air, as he arrived at the central committee meeting later that day.
“I may be prettier than Oren Hazan, but I’m not as interesting,” prominent central committee member Keren Barak sighed mid-speech, as people flocked to the scandal-plagued MK.
While most central committee members kept their distance, murmuring about a disgrace to the party, a core group rushed to hug and kiss him. One woman gave him a heart-shaped helium balloon.
Some central committee members wielded a sign expressing the apparent consensus among Hazan’s supporters: “We believe you and trust you with our eyes closed. Enough media incitement!” Hazan continued to deny his reported debauchery: “When did we become a society that believes – excuse my language – whores and druggies who hide in the shadows and have their voices altered as opposed to someone who was chosen in a democratic election and got thousands of votes?” Hazan’s father, former MK Yehiel Hazan pushed cameramen out of the way and shouted “Oren. No. Stop talking,” to no avail. The MK refused to answer questions about his threat to dig up negative stories about Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, but complained about the punishment from the speaker.
“If someone went on the news and said Edelstein is an alcoholic, would he suspend himself?” Hazan asked.
When the MK went to a cordoned-off area for a break from the flashbulbs, the elder Hazan spoke: “We all know who Oren is and the kind of education he received, and that says it all. He will fight for the Land of Israel and the weaker sectors.”
Yehiel Hazan, who was convicted of double voting on a bill – once for himself and again for an absent MK – said his son “is a big boy” who can decide whether to take a polygraph test, pointing out that, in any case, they are not accepted in court.
“You, the media, are not the court.
Everything will be made clear in court,” the elder Hazan said.
Likud central committee chairman and Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon did not openly refer to Hazan in his speech, but seemed to hint to his thoughts.
Referring to media coverage of the last election that claimed Zionist Union was winning in Likud strongholds like Bet She’an, which turned out to be untrue on election day, he said: “Sometimes the reports don’t reflect the truth. Sometimes the media incites... We don’t want [the press] to take the negative aspects and give them power.”
The purpose of the central committee meeting was to debate the Likud primary system. On Sunday, the approximately 3,600-member central committee will vote on whether to give itself the power to choose Likud’s lists for the Knesset in future elections, as opposed to the current system, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports, wherein Likud’s 100,000 members vote.
Attendance was sparse, but most of the members present seemed to support giving themselves more power.
“Our leadership today is great, and they were all first elected by the central committee; they wouldn’t be here if there had been a primary,” Barak posited.
“If we don’t bring the power back to the central committee, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot... [Netanyahu] doesn’t want to pay attention to us,” Rafi Gabbay, a central committee member from Ramat Hasharon lamented.
However, Daniel Tauber, a central committee member and Jerusalem Post columnist, expressed concerns that more power would have a corrupting effect on the members who, he claimed, “already carry a lot of weight in the Likud.”
“If the central committee is grabbing power now, it’s likely they will want more in the future. These are good people, but the temptation is too strong,” he stated.
Like Netanyahu, Tauber expressed certainty that returning to the central committee system will lose Likud votes in the general election.
“People should choose MKs. MKs represent the people, not some committee.
I would benefit if the power went to the central committee, but I don’t have the right to that power,” he said.