Oren Hazan: A Rebel with a cause?

Far from being considered the Knesset darling, controversial MK Oren Hazan explains his anti-establishment behavior, reveals his surprising new legislation and advertises for a match.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 11, 2016 11:29
MK Oren Hazan

MK Oren Hazan. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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When introducing himself to the world, rebellious Likud MK Oren Hazan likes comparing himself to figures more known than him outside the Jewish state: American presidential candidate Donald Trump and fictional characters like Frodo from Lord of the Rings and the Incredible Hulk.

Another comparison that can be made that he likes a lot is to the wild teenager played by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. There has arguably never been an MK in a ruling party who in his own eyes has been so willing to go against the establishment for what he believes in.

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Hazan has been repeatedly punished by the Likud establishment since entering the Knesset a year ago as the 30th candidate of the party, which won 30 seats in the March 17 election. His Likud detractors would say his punishments have nothing to do with his ideology.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein permanently suspended Hazan from his post as deputy Knesset speaker last summer following a Channel 2 report that accused the 34-year-old MK of pimping prostitutes and doing crystal meth when he ran a hotel in Bulgaria that the report said was a casino.

Last December, the Knesset Ethics Committee handed Hazan a one-month suspension, banning him from the plenum and debates, for what it saw as picking on disabled Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar. In February, coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi fired Hazan from both the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the House Committee for truancy.

But the way Hazan sees it, as he explains in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in his always busy Knesset office, he has been falsely judged because of his ideology and his unconventional style of promoting it, and therefore it was worth losing everything that has been taken away.

To understand his side of the story, listen to the comparisons he makes. First of all, with Trump.

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“The politicians and media laughed at him and made him into a clown,” Hazan said of the Republican front-runner. “But in the end, the people are voting for him because he says what they think out loud. My job is also to represent the people and say what they think, and people like it. That’s why people on the street and here at the Knesset want to shake my hand and take selfies with me.”

Sounding like Trump, he said he won’t change to fit into what a politician is supposed to be.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “The public doesn’t want its politicians to speak with masks and fog anymore. They don’t want dreams that will be broken. They want the truth, they want hope, they want to be spoken to at their level about what is deep inside of them. I tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it makes it easier to win their support.”

To that end, Hazan became the first Likud MK to make an endorsement in the American election.

He, of course, said he would vote for Trump.

“I hope I don’t cause a diplomatic crisis by saying this, but I believe him,” Hazan said. “I think he would be a good friend of Israel. A guy who speaks of closing his country’s borders to radical Islam would have an easier time understanding Israel when we have to close our borders.”

The second comparison Hazan made was with the Hulk, a Marvel Comics superhero who is both a mild-mannered physicist and a large, green humanoid who possesses superhuman strength and invulnerability the angrier he becomes.

Hazan said he has learned to compartmentalize his anger, which has made him maddeningly calm when he has been put on the spot, allowing him to absorb his blows in stride.

“My secret of how I handled the Knesset speaker screaming at me is that I’m like the incredible Hulk,” he said. “The Hulk was always angry, and I’m also angry all the time. But I never scream back or curse.”

The third comparison Hazan made was to Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who, as the protagonist from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, went on a long journey.

“I learned from Frodo that if you keep your legs moving one after another, you’ll never know where you’ve been,” he said. “That is why every day I reflect and say this is the farthest I’ve been. I keep walking and build myself my own road, and I think I do it very well.”

When Hazan was 12, he decided he wanted to be the prime minister of Israel. He mistakenly revealed his dream to other kids, who responded by punching him.

“But I kept up the idea,” he recalled. “What do I want to be when I grow up? To get to the highest and most important place I can be to serve the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.”

Hazan’s political future is in the hands of Likud members, who will decide the party’s slate for the next Knesset. To them, he will present himself as the antiestablishment candidate, which will distance him from all the others.

“I was the first one to call the violence an intifada, I was the first one who screamed at the defense minister that he wasn’t doing enough to stop it, and I was the first one to call for expelling the families of terrorists in a bill that the Knesset has refused to advance,” he said. “Time after time, I have said that the king is naked and the clerks and elites are wrong.”

Hazan’s growing list of nemeses now includes Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Edelstein, Elharar and Hanegbi. But there is one man he will never attack: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I don’t attack those who didn’t attack me first,” he said. “The prime minister and I are very good friends. We have good relations, and I think he has met me one-on-one more than any other new MK. We don’t agree on everything. But if you know how to work with those who don’t think like you, you can understand each other.”

That has not happened with Hanegbi, whom he has accused of blaming him for his own failures in the post he never wanted as head of the coalition.

After Hanegbi removed him from two Knesset committees, Hazan voluntarily left the other two.

Now he goes to whichever committee he wants and makes his voice heard, but he does not vote in any of them. He said he realized that, due to faction discipline, voting was more of a burden than a privilege, so it was no loss.

“I don’t want to vote, because most of the time I don’t think like them,” he admitted. “So even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I made it easier for them by quitting. I go to every committee where I have something to say. I scream what I need to scream, from my heart.”

That approach has not prevented him from getting things done in the Knesset. This week he passed a bill into law, formalizing into law Israel’s name, as it was announced when Israel declared independence. While some saw the bill as redundant, and he had to raise his voice at a Knesset legal adviser who tried to change it, he saw it as crucial and believes he made history.

“Sometimes people don’t take the things I do seriously,” he said. “But finally, after 68 years, we finally say we are Israel and put it into law. This is very Zionist, and I’m very proud of it.”

Hazan’s next bills would require teaching Arabic from first grade and require 5 percent of proceeds from legal forms of gambling, such as the Mifal Hapayis lottery, to go to gambling treatment centers.

Both bills surprised people, knowing that Hazan won a slot on the Likud list representing residents of Judea and Samaria and his background in the alleged casino. But he said it is important to understand his neighbors, and he has seen the negative effects of gambling.

Hazan’s NIS 1 million court case against Channel 2 political corespondent Amit Segal, who reported his alleged escapades in Bulgaria, went to court for the first time on Sunday. The judge advised both sides to settle, but since neither side will pay for it, it will go back to court in July.

“I decided to take on myself the fight against lies in the media,” he said. “The fact that the media can broadcast whatever lies they want and build their reality full of lies needs to stop. I asked for a lot of money because the damage done to me was humongous. But I don’t care about the money. If they say it was a mistake, and it never happened, that is fine with me.”

Asked what he did in Bulgaria, he said: “I enjoyed myself. But can you imagine me with prostitutes? Look at me. Come on!” Hazan ended the interview with an impassioned plea. He is looking for a wife, and he believes an immigrant from an English-speaking country would be a good fit.

“There are so many single women who have made aliya to Israel and live here alone,” he said.

“My name is Oren. I have a big heart, a big sense of humor, and a big belly. I am not pretty, but I am full of charisma.”

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