MK Oren Hazan.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The media have been preoccupied with Likud MK Oren Hazan since his election to the Knesset. Two months after he was sworn in on March 31 came the revelations about his questionable past as a casino operator in Belgium; two weeks later it was allegations about a sexual assault a few years prior; then the police recommended that Hazan be prosecuted for physical assault on a public official last year; last week he publicly mocked disabled MK Karin Elharar for needing help to press the button for Knesset votes; and now he may be prosecuted for filing false reports with the comptroller regarding his campaign finances.
I caught a glimpse of his un-Knesset-like behavior in a scene away from the media’s glare, which was not caught on film. During election campaigns, candidates participate in debates before high school students. At one such debate where Knesset candidate Hazan was the Likud representative, he attacked the Labor party candidate with obnoxious, mean-spirited and sexist comments. Despite my general calm nature, I could not remain quiet. I pounded on the table and yelled to the crowd: “This man is not only not worthy of being in the Knesset, he is not even worthy of being a candidate for Knesset.”
Of all the numbing stories and scenes that have catapulted this freshman MK to prime-time headlines, I believe a different picture captures the most significant problem that the Hazan case has exposed.
Just hours after the Knesset Ethics Committee banned him from committee and plenum sessions for a month, and minutes after the comptroller issued his report which suggested that Hazan’s campaign finance violations included criminal offenses, MK Hazan was filmed sitting at his seat in the plenum talking on his cell phone. Why is that significant? Because it is against Knesset rules: MKs are not allowed to talk on their cell phones while the plenum is in session.
That moment – breaking Knesset protocol within minutes of revelations of possible criminal offense – captures the root of MK Hazan’s problem: lack of respect for the institution called the Knesset, and a dismissive attitude towards the most basic rules.
But here is the real problem: that “I can break the rules and do whatever I want to do” attitude, which, when not held in check, can lead to actual criminal offenses, is not limited to a relatively insignificant Knesset member like MK Hazan.
The recent comptroller’s report used harsh language against security cabinet member and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, saying he used funds raised for his uncontested race for chairman of the Jewish Home party for the party’s national election campaign.
He also raised far more money than the rules allow. And to top it off, this is the second time he has done this! Two election campaigns under his belt, and two reports of campaign finance violations.
He did nothing criminal and is not at risk of being prosecuted for his actions; he simply did not follow the rules.
The comptroller’s report also points to other ministers and MKs in the Likud, Jewish Home, and Zionist Union for violating campaign finance rules. Most, like Bennett, will simply pay their fines and perhaps do the same when the next election comes around.
All of this comes on the heels of two other scandals that came to light this week. Former minister, MK, and presidential candidate Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer is officially being indicted for bribery, money laundering, fraud, tax evasion and breach of public trust. This is a man who less than two years ago was courting me in the Knesset to vote for him for president. I sat in his office and listened as he told me about all his accomplishments in the IDF and as a minister. And in that “I can break the rules and do whatever I want to do” environment, the fact that he had accepted all of those bribes did not scare him away from running for president.
“As long as I don’t get caught” seems to be the modus operandi.
The story of former MK Yinon Magal, who served as faction head for the Jewish Home party, is no different. A former employee of the Walla news site told me this week that Magal’s womanizing was well-known to all who worked there, and goes way beyond the four women who issued formal complaints with the police. Magal has resigned from the Knesset. But what was he thinking when he entered the Knesset? Clearly he, too, believed that “as long as I don’t get caught,” all is okay.
So how do we get back on track? How do we re-establish trust in the political leadership and restore dignity to the Knesset? There is only one way. The country has to stop focusing on the entertaining and absurd escapades of MK Hazan and instead zero in on the rule breaking of Naftali Bennett, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Social Equality Minister Gil Gamliel, and the far-too-long list of MKs who simply “violated the rules.”
There should be zero tolerance for political leaders who do not respect the electorate and the Knesset, and feel free to break rules without a moment’s hesitation – whether by talking on a cell phone in the plenum, or by improper use of campaign funds.
While I hope that the ministers and MKs listed in the comptroller’s report change their ways, recent history has shown that this likely won’t happen. This means that it is in the hands of Israeli voters to do something about it.
I only hope that we won’t settle for keeping just Oren Hazan out of the next Knesset, while at the same time allowing those who “simply break some rules” back into office.
Israel deserves better.