New ethical code at Knesset: Dock MKs' salaries for bad behavior

MKs Hanegbi, Rosenthal hope to improve lawmakers' conduct with more stringent rules.

Knesset MKs at plenum 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset MKs at plenum 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

After years of parliamentary stunts and shouting matches, lawmakers may have to mind their behavior to abide by the new ethical code for the legislature that MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) and Knesset House Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu) plan to submit Monday morning.

“There will be no opposition or coalition on this matter; rather, we will join hands across party lines to strengthen the legislature’s image,” Hanegbi, one of the 19th Knesset’s veteran MKs, said of the bipartisan effort.
Rosenthal, a freshman MK, posited that “authorizing the new ethics rules will give us an opportunity to sign a new agreement between MKs and the Israeli public.”
“The public’s trust in politicians has eroded to a dangerous level, but I hope the rules of behavior will renew that trust in its representatives,” he added.
The new code has rules ranging from how to treat Knesset workers – with respect, of course – to when it is appropriate to use the Knesset letterhead. Guidelines for MKs’ sartorial choices were vague, saying only that they should dress “appropriately,” as opposed to former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik’s rules banishing jeans and sandals.
The new ethical code will deal with what is seen by many in the Knesset as the Ethics Committee’s biggest problem: a lack of authority.
According to Rosenthal and Hanegbi’s rules, the committee will be able to recommend that MKs not be chosen for special positions, such as committee chairman, and recommend that lawmakers with such roles be suspended or removed from them. In addition, the Ethics Committee will be able to dock MKs’ salaries for up to two months.
The proposed code will require the Knesset Legal Adviser to review all parliamentarians’ declarations of wealth, which they are required to submit at the start of each Knesset. MKs will not be allowed to commit to a lobbyist that they will vote one way or another.
Another article in the new ethical code will require legislators to answer letters “within a reasonable amount of time,” but allows them to decline to answer “with reasonable grounds.”
MKs will also not be able to participate in votes or run committee meetings in which they have a conflict of interest.
Hanegbi plans to put the new ethical code on his committee’s agenda in the coming weeks, and he and Rosenthal hope it will be officially authorized by the summer.
The current ethical code was passed over 30 years ago.
During the 16th Knesset, a public committee led by retired judge Yitzhak Zamir recommended new rules, and there was a House Subcommittee in the 18th Knesset led by then-Meretz MK Haim Oron meant to draft a new code, but neither effort succeeded.
Rosenthal and Hanegbi based their new code on Zamir and Oron’s versions, in addition to the 1983 version that is still in use, articles added to the existing code in the interim and Ethics Committee decisions.