Eitan: Not enough leadership exemplars for Likud freshmen

New MK Shama calls Knesset a mix between 'Big Brother' and 'Survivor.'

There's a lack of leadership exemplars within the Likud for young freshman lawmakers, according to the party's most venerable MK - Minister for Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan, who has been in the legislature since 1984. Eitan was explaining the phenomenon in the coalition's just completed first Knesset session, during which the Likud was plagued by internal dispute, often at the hands of its unusually large incoming class. Eitan was criticized toward the end of the session for personally opposing the so-called "Mofaz Bill" as anti-democratic, but still voting in favor of it as part of coalition discipline, which he described as one of the linchpins of the Israeli political system. But among the incoming class of Likud legislators, that same tradition was repeatedly ignored, as time after time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu found himself engaging in legislative head-butting with his party's newest representatives. The struggle that began with MK Miri Regev's successful campaign against the imposition of VAT on fruits and vegetables, continued through efforts by MKs Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely to pull the party rightward in the wake of the prime minister's June Bar-Ilan speech, where he spoke of a future Palestinian state, and ended with the face-off between Hotovely and Netanyahu on the Israel Lands Administration reform bill. "In the previous Knesset, our faction numbered 12, and now all but two of those who were MKs then are ministers. The rest of the MKs are all more-or-less new, and because the veterans are ministers, they do not have the figures who can pass on the 'oral Torah,' so to speak," Eitan said recently, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "There is no course in university to learn how to be an MK. You learn it over time. You learn from each other. Much of it is unwritten. What you do and don't do is orally conveyed. So when a faction like this starts moving, there are all kinds of squeaks and friction. I don't blame anyone for it. It has happened in other factions as well." Eitan added that many of the incidents that occurred in the summer session could be seen as manifestations of that "phenomenon." "It helps if someone has one or two more veteran MKs that he sits with, gets advice from, learns from. There are always new situations that arise, and you have to ask: What are the precedents that could apply?" One freshman Likud lawmaker who found himself in the eye of the storm was MK Carmel Shama, who a month and a half into his first Knesset session was tapped to lead the subcommittee tasked with passing the controversial land reform bill. "The ILA reform was a long process and it was an apprenticeship that any MK would be well-suited to undergo, involving ministries, Knesset guidelines, opposition... There was everything. There were crises, you had to demonstrate a lot of creativity to get it through. It was even a physical effort, with some meetings that lasted almost 24 hours," recalled Shama. "But I am thankful for the opportunity and I would wish this experience on any newcomer to the Knesset." Shama said that he did not feel that he had suffered from a lack of leadership on the part of the faction's more senior members. "We all have had meetings with various ministers with whom we have consulted, even if they're not with us in the committees." He added that for the most part, the freshman legislators also supported one another and that morale was high. Nevertheless, Shama, who had to face off against veteran Knesset hands like Shelly Yacimovich (Likud), Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) and Haim Oron (Meretz) in the course of his work on the reform bill, said the summer session was "a learning period." "The Knesset is like a combination of Big Brother and Survivor," he said. "On one hand, you're filmed all the time, and on the other hand everyone is trying to survive at the expense of someone else."