Rivlin calls to limit lobbyists as restrictions kick in

New rules limit lobbyists activity to the Knesset’s public cafeterias and committee rooms.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Knesset faction chairmen worked to further limit lobbyists through changes to the Knesset’s ethical code on Tuesday, calling for MKs to be personally responsible for their interactions with lobbyists.
New rules for lobbyists in the Knesset went into effect on Monday, following an instruction by Rivlin, which limited their activity to the Knesset’s public cafeterias and committee rooms. Lobbyists are prohibited from entering the MKs’ cafeteria or offices, the Knesset Research and Information Center and other areas of the Knesset.
The move came following a negative report on Channel 2’s Uvda investigative program, in which an employee of Gilad Lobbying recounted how he manipulated MKs and the Knesset Research and Information Center to a classroom full of lobbyists-in-training.
Rivlin called the chairmen of all Knesset factions to a meeting on Tuesday, in which he emphasized the immediate need to pass changes to the ethical code in a vote by the Knesset House Committee.
The amendments include forbidding lobbyists to give any gifts or benefits to MKs, prohibiting parliamentary assistants to also work as lobbyists and making MKs responsible for the consequences of lobbyists’ activities.
Rivlin told the faction chairmen in the meeting that he spoke to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, all of whom supported the changes.
According to the Knesset speaker, the public believes that MKs are promoting the interests of the wealthy, and that allowing lobbyists’ intervention in Knesset affairs endangers the image of Israeli democracy.
Likud faction Chairman Ze’ev Elkin and Israel Beiteinu faction Chairman Robert Ilatov expressed reservations about the new limitations. Elkin said that they will encourage “grey” lobbying, and that a “lobbyist without a tag is 1,000 times more dangerous.”
Conversely, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich praised Rivlin, saying that lobbyists give corporations an advantage in the Knesset.
“The public understands that our connections with lobbyists are sinful,” she said. “They hate us, and rightfully so. This is discrimination, and we cannot be a part of it.”
Habayit Hayehudi faction leader Uri Orbach pointed out that the MKs didn’t just “land from the moon,” and all knew about the situation presented on Uvda.
According to Orbach, there is no reason to completely disqualify commercial interests from being presented in the Knesset. The key, he explained, is to regulate how it is done and the amount of influence narrow interests have.
MKs Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism), Jamal Zahalke (Balad) and Hana Sweid (Hadash) expressed support for the changes in the name of their respective parties. Kadima faction Chairwoman Dalia Itzik and UAL-Ta’al Chairman Taleb a-Sanaa were not present.
Lobbyist Behira Bardugo is representing her colleagues following the Uvda report and new restrictions. She explained that it is too soon to see whether the regulations that are already in effect will have a real effect on lobbyists’ work.
However, she said, it is unfair to punish all lobbyists from all companies for “the sins of one person and one company.”
“I understand that the Knesset Speaker’s job is to protect the Knesset’s dignity, and we relate to his anger following the report,” Bardugo added. “But just because there are some former MKs in jail, does not mean that all MKs are corrupt. The same applies to lobbyists.”
She also expressed outrage at the claim that lobbyists only represent the wealthy, pointing out that many NGOs representing social causes hire lobbying services, and that one lobbyist can represent a corporation and a charity at the same time.
According to Bardugo, most lobbyists are “disgusted by the arrogance and cynicism” displayed in the Uvda report, calling the Gilad lobbyist a “retarded idiot” and a “stupid man bragging to his students.”
“Anyone who says they can manipulate the Knesset Research and Information Center is a liar. They always bring neutral information and show all sides of a situation without telling the MKs what to do,” she said.
At the same time, Bardugo pointed out that “even if [manipulation of MKs and the Knesset Research and Information Center] is not right, it is not illegal. Nobody bribed them.”
She concluded that since lobbyists wear special name tags and their identity is clear to MKs, they should not be held responsible for MKs’ actions.