The precedent set by Caligula, when he made his horse join the Roman Empire’s senate, was emulated many times before the Jewish state’s lawmakers found Oren Hazan grazing in their midst.
Though since that Roman precedent no lawmaker is known to have emerged from a stable, legislators have repeatedly manufactured shame.
French law professor Bruno Gollnisch tried to stop public funding for sexually explicit bands by dropping his pants in the middle of a speech to a regional council; Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter entered the European parliament after starring on a Playboy magazine cover; Polish misogynist Janusz Korwin-Mikke suggested to ban women voting and turn the European Commission building into a brothel; and Italian porn star Cicciolina, having heard war might erupt in the Middle East, offered Saddam Hussein a night in her arms in turn for peace.
In the spirit of these embarrassments, some dismissed this week’s Israeli version of these scandals as what those European rages were – journalistic brouhahas and political weeds. They are wrong.
The lands that can afford lewdness, farce and idiocy in the middle of their public spheres are not surrounded by rockets, missiles, ayatollahs, mullahs, suicides and a nuclear threat. That is why this week’s revelations by Channel 2 TV’s Amit Segal about new MK Oren Hazan must alarm every citizen, regardless of ideology, class or sex.
According to the exposé, Hazan, a 33-yearold bachelor, supplied prostitutes to clients of a casino he ran until two years ago in Burgas, Bulgaria, and while at it consumed illegal drugs. Hazan, who was shown in photos a la Hugh Hefner smiling broadly while surrounded by bimbos including one on his lap, denied all the allegations. Sadly, soon after vowing to face a lie detector he reversed that promise, and while claiming he ran a hotel rather than a casino he wouldn’t cite the hotel’s name.
The gambling parlor, by contrast, has a name – Casino Gold. Part of a beachside strip of hotels and bars, it was launched by Hazan’s father with the involvement of the Israeli underworld, according to an investigative report in TheMarker.
Hazan’s father, Yehiel, was himself a lawmaker last decade, before being caught double voting for an absent lawmaker, a felony for which he was tried and convicted to a suspended two-month jail sentence and four months’ public service. The elder Hazan’s double voting, it should be noted, was done on behalf of then-MK Inbal Gavrieli, also Likud, and niece of Reuven Gavrieli, who reportedly ran a string of casinos in Turkey.
This is the ecosystem from which the younger Hazan hailed, before landing in the Knesset as No. 30 on Likud’s list of candidates.
NEW LAWMAKERS, especially those who arrive there improbably, start quietly and slowly, taking some time before climbing to visible positions and making bombastic statements. Not Hazan.
The dubious businessman and law school dropout announced upon arrival in his new job that he demands to be positioned in the Knesset’s most prestigious committees. If not – he warned – the coalition might lose his finger in important votes.
Both the demand and the threat were travesties, and suggested that the new lawmaker thinks like a gambler and acts like a brute.
Yet the blackmail worked, and the suspected pimp landed in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and also in the Knesset Finance Committee in addition to his appointment as deputy speaker.
Hazan claims he is the victim of a smear campaign driven by revulsion with his Greater Israel faith and his residency to this day in Ariel, where he was born and raised. But alas, those unconvinced by his sanctimony include his own colleagues, most notably Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, a Temple Mount provocateur whose hawkish credentials need no proof.
“There is truly deep shame in the face of such conduct on the part of an elected official,” she told Army Radio, “every citizen in Israel feels ashamed.” And lest this unequivocal judgment be left ineffective she added: “I hope the Knesset speaker as well as the prime minister will know how to deal with the harsh problems we are seeing; they are obviously more than just ethical problems.”
Speaker Yuli Edelstein indeed lost no time concurring, calling Hazan to his office, demanding explanations to the allegations, and then telling Hazan he is suspending him from running plenary sessions until further notice.
Edelstein’s announcement contradicted Hazan’s statement that he would not be chairing a Knesset session scheduled for that evening because he decided to use that time for a consultation with his lawyers about suing Channel 2 for defamation. That lie coincided with Hazan’s reported threat to the speaker, through messengers, that Hazan would dig dirt against Edelstein – a Hebrew teacher who sat three years in a gulag and last year lost to cancer his wife, Tatiana, who had been with him since their days when they braved the KGB’s goons as underground activists in Moscow.
One wonders what kind of “dirt” Hazan thinks he can dig up about an idealist like Edelstein, and what makes him think that his threats can be scarier than the KGB’s, but it takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand how a man suspected of leading whores to gamblers seems to a loyal husband who had only recently held the hand of his wife of 33 years while watching her die.
It is also not difficult to imagine what anything related to prostitution seems like to Hotovely, an observant mother who previously headed the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and passed legislation to protect victims of sexual abuse.
It is also not difficult to understand the opposition leaders who emerged with different responses to the situation: Isaac Herzog, who thinks the disgrace at stake is to the entire Jewish state, and therefore offered to help the Likud ground its scandal-ridden lawmaker by refraining from exploiting his prospective absence from votes; and Shelly Yacimovich, who thinks the disgrace at stake is no one else’s but the Likud’s, and that the ruling party should therefore be left to eat alone what it cooked alone.
Though they disagree tactically, the opposition’s responses are consistent in their substance and share Edelstein’s and Hotovely’s disgust and indeed any fair minded citizen’s, because they agree that Channel 2’s revelations are too explicit to deny, and too revolting to ignore.
It is therefore not difficult to imagine how these bipartisan forces will now gather pressure for Hazan’s removal from the Knesset’s work, one way or another.
What is more difficult to imagine is what Benjamin Netanyahu thought when he paved Hazan’s way to the heart of the public sphere, and what is difficult to understand is how the prime minister remains silent while this mess is raging in his front yard.
NETANYAHU shepherded Hazan to political prominence twice: first en route to the Knesset, and then once inside it.
During the Likud’s primary the prime minister backed Hazan’s candidacy for the No. 30 slot, reportedly because the other candidate for that slot, which is reserved for candidates younger than 35, was one Shai Malka, then the assistant to former MK Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin had led the religious far Right’s effort to conquer the Likud from within, and from Netanyahu’s viewpoint constituted a strategic threat, making the Likud appear too far to the Right. That is how Hazan ended up in the Knesset.
That is bad enough, because it means that Netanyahu either didn’t bother glancing at Hazan’s CV, or didn’t ask the questions that it must immediately raise, questions a human resources department would have asked in a job interview, like “Why did you leave law school,’ and, ‘Why Bulgaria,’ and, ‘I understand that’s a casino strip where you worked, what exactly did you do there?’ Sadly, in what now emerges like a party without a top, the Likud’s leader not only didn’t block Hazan at the gate, he waved him in.
Then, once in the Knesset, Netanyahu granted Hazan all his brazen wishes, including a seat in the committee that oversees the IDF, the secret services and the Foreign Ministry, a forum where serious people like Avi Dichter, former head of our FBI, and Michael Oren, our former ambassador to the US, are to be joined by our former ambassador to Casino Gold.
At the same time, Netanyahu left out of that forum one of its most knowledgeable, diligent, and effective members ever, Bennie Begin. The empty, frivolous and headless Hazan – Netanyahu must have figured – would serve better the national interest.