Difficult week for Knesset's reputation draws to close

This has been an unusually bad week for the Knesset's reputation with two MKs convicted of criminal charges; a third, already on trial, admitting to tampering with evidence; and a fourth, who has already served his sentence, poised to return to the increasingly tarnished chamber. Furthermore, it was unlikely that any of the first three would have give up their Knesset seats before the next election. Among those casting a shadow over the Knesset was former MK and cabinet minister Sallah Tarif (Labor), scheduled to be sworn in as an MK Monday, who was convicted of bribery. Yehiel Hazan (Likud), meanwhile, is on trial for double voting and was recently caught on film removing evidence from his trial; MK Omri Sharon (Likud) was convicted of falsifying corporate documents and making a false oath; and Yair Peretz (Shas) pleaded guilty on Thursday to having fraudulently obtained an academic degree from Burlington University. "It makes people look at their government with shame and be embarrassed by their elected officials," said MK Ran Cohen (Yahad-Meretz.) "It makes me wonder about what type of people I work with." On Thursday, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would allow Tarif to take up his post, although the Knesset House Committee could block the move during a meeting scheduled for Monday. Tarif said he wants to become an MK but postpone taking the official oath of loyalty until the outcome of an appeal he has lodged against his conviction. Tarif is due to replace Amram Mitzna, who resigned from the Knesset to become appointed mayor of the Negev development town of Yeruham. Shinui MK Reshef Chen has lodged an appeal with House Committee Chairman Roni Bar-On against Tarif's appointment. "The community of MKs should spare the Knesset the shame of swearing in a person who has been convicted of criminal offenses such as bribery and breach of trust," said Chen. Although Hazan was caught removing evidence connected to his trial on charges of having cast his own vote and that of an absent MK during a budget debate in May 2003, Rivlin announced that he would not take legal action against him. Hazan was filmed by Knesset security cameras removing four electronic voting panels used in the Knesset vote for which he is suspected of double-voting. Although Rivlin may file a complaint against Hazan to the Knesset's Ethics Committee, he told the press on Thursday he does "not believe that what Hazan did constituted a criminal offense." Meanwhile, however, the Justice Ministry announced that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has ordered the police to investigate the matter of Hazan's alleged theft. The investigation will be carried out by the head of the Fraud Squad, Lt.- Cmdr. Miri Golan. MK Omri Sharon pleaded guilty to falsifying corporate documents but, unless the court rules during his sentencing that his offense constitutes a crime of "moral turpitude," he will not be forced to resign from the Knesset. Even if it does rule to that effect, Sharon is entitled to appeal against the ruling to the Tel Aviv District Court. By the time he exhausts all the procedures afforded by the law, the 16th Knesset will have come to the end of its term. Lastly, according to the plea bargain agreement between the prosecution and Peretz, the Shas MK was convicted of fraud, but not breach of faith, for receiving his psychology degree under false pretenses. The state intends to ask the court to determine that his crime was one of moral turpitude. However, as in Omri Sharon's case, even if the court grants the state's request, the legal options at his disposal will enable Peretz, if he resorts to them, to remain an MK until the end of the Knesset's term.