Edelstein: Journalist hiring private eyes to tail MKs belongs in jail

Journalist's "100 Days of Transparency" project raised almost NIS 160,000 to follow lawmakers who "love darkness" and "resist transparency."

Yuli Edelstein (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yuli Edelstein
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein plans to ban from the Knesset all those involved in a plan to hire private investigators to follow MKs in the name of transparency, and called for them to be put in prison.
Former Calcalist Knesset reporter Tomer Avital started raising money for his "100 Days of Transparency" project in July via the Israeli crowdfunding site Headstart, and as of Monday, has close to NIS 160,000 to hire private investigators to "make transparency-resisters [in the Knesset] sweat," as the project's page reads.
A video on the project's site shows MKs hugging lobbyists and attending parties with some of the wealthiest Israelis and points out that many MKs only attend a handful of plenum meetings.
100 Days of Transparency Headstart campaign
Avital, who also wrote a murder mystery describing an extreme case of what can happen when there is a lack of transparency in the Knesset, particularly in regards to lobbyists, plans to have investigators track the activities of lawmakers who "love darkness," meaning those whose schedules and activities are least transparent.
"They should think twice before serving narrow interests. In general, we want elected officials to be subject to new, different public transparency standards. Specifically, we want to know who they're meeting with and why they are ditching the plenum," Avital wrote on the Headstart page.
Edelstein attacked the initiative on Monday, in an interview with Galey Israel Radio, saying "if someone involved ends up in court and in jail and in handcuffs, I won't shed a tear."
The Knesset Speaker pointed out that there are several former police commanders who are now MKs and often receive threats.
"Imagine if an MK is threatened and Knesset security tells him 'people from this kind of group are watching you, terrorists or criminals…just so you know.' That MK knows to be careful. But what if he always sees someone following him and he is sure that it is from this group  of – I'm not going to call them by the name they deserve – and he isn't careful, because he says it's these clowns, what do I care, and then he gets hurt?" he asked.
Edelstein also warned that he will not allow anyone involved in "100 Days of Transparency" into the Knesset and that "there will probably be more severe means" of blocking the project.
Any MK who complains about the project will receive police protection and legal aid, he added.
"There is a limit. Publicize things, demand transparency as much as you want, but these people are basically turning into criminals and claiming they are doing work for the public. I won't allow that," Edelstein said.
Avital called Edelstein's statements "amazing," writing on Facebook that parliamentary aides and even lobbyists support his initiative, but the MKs oppose it.
"Edelstein hinted I belong in jail, that I'm going too far and he plans to take away my entrance pass to the Knesset. I hope he's joking about the Knesset. As for going too far – they are, not us. As for my entrance pass – that's not funny. I need it. Part of my income comes from stories I get by walking around the Knesset's halls," Avital wrote.
The journalist posited that every citizen has the right to enter the Knesset and questioned the Speaker's right to take that away.
"I expected these responses, but I hoped people would wake up after 1,600 people paid to shout at the Knesset that the time has come for us to know who represents us and how. Is this really the response?" Avital asked.
Avital added on Monday that he is glad his initiative is meeting its goal to spark a dialogue about transparency, and that if MKs didn't vote down bills calling for basic transparency he would not have launched his project.
"The reality today is incomprehensible. Elected officials secretly own stock, vote secretly on policy and we have no idea what vacations they take, even though the public is their employer," Avital said. "This is an absurd situation that calls for absurd measures."
Avital added that, while he has a lot of respect for Edelstein, his response shows what most MKs think - they are afraid of their scheduled being revealed.
"What do they have to hide?" he asked.
The journalist also said his goal is not to threaten MKs but to understand why they avoid the plenum and whether they dedicate their time to narrow interests, and that the project only uses legal means.
"There won't be bugging or anything like that," Avital vowed. "I want to remind you that people hire private investigators in a legally questionable and problematic way are often the MKs themselves."