Securing a Knesset seat in only one month

Some people spend a lifetime trying to score a seat in the Knesset. For Israel Beiteinu MK Yosef Shagal, it took barely one month. Although he immigrated from Azerbaijan in 1990, Shagal put off joining a political party until February 24, barely a month before the elections. "When I decide to do something, I go into it knowing in advance that I will succeed," said Shagal, No. 4 spot on his party's list. "I decided to go into politics, and poof! Now I am." With his walrus moustache and easy smile, the 57-year-old Shagal gives the appearance of someone who has fallen incongruously into the Knesset. He shuns the posh members' cafeteria for a smaller Knesset employees' cafeteria, because the rice "is crispier." He lists his personal phone number as his main contact number rather than referring inquiries to a parliamentary aide or spokesman. While his fellow MKs vied for spots on choice Knesset committees, Shagal decided to visit Azerbaijan as part of a diplomatic mission sponsored by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. Because he was out of the country, Shagal was not sure which committees he had been placed on. "The only committee I am sure that I am on is the Immigration Committee," said Shagal. "And that is really the only committee that matters." Shagal, who left behind his job as a journalist for a Channel 9 Russian-language news program to join the Knesset, said that his central goal was the improvement of immigrants' lives. "People say all these things and put all these spins on Israel Beiteinu, but ultimately we are about working for our community, the immigrant community," said Shagal. "There is all sorts of speculation about [Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman's plans. People say he is a fascist or worse. That is only because they do not understand the nuances of his plans." Coming from Azerbaijan, Shagal said he was in a unique position to understand Lieberman's objectives, including his plan to reduce the number of Arab citizens of Israel. "I lived in a mostly Muslim state for most of my life, and while I was there I respected [Azerbaijan] and its ways, even when it was painful for me to do so," said Shagal. "Ultimately, I decided to leave for Israel, where my people, the Jewish people, are. My experience is very similar to what Lieberman proposes for the Arabs." While Shagal falls short of calling for the deportation or removal of Arabs from the State of Israel, he calls the recent controversy over Lieberman's remarks in the Knesset "very complicated." During the first week of the 17th Knesset, Lieberman set off a political firestorm with a series of remarks comparing Arab MKs who met with Hamas parliamentarians with Nazi war collaborators. While the battle between Arab MKs and Lieberman's supporters in the Knesset may be ongoing, for Shagal it's simply not his story. "I'm still the journalist. I am keeping myself focused on the beat I am there to do," he said.