What can be done about bad-mouthing and using foul language in the Knesset? - opinion

"I wonder where all the poison and hatred, which lead you to say such horrible things about people you do not even know, come from", Hayut said to David Amsalem.

 SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut presides over a court hearing. ‘I wonder where all the poison and hatred, which lead you to say such horrible things about people you do not even know, come from,’ she wrote to MK David Amsalem.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut presides over a court hearing. ‘I wonder where all the poison and hatred, which lead you to say such horrible things about people you do not even know, come from,’ she wrote to MK David Amsalem.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

When I was a child, in the early 1950s, I remember my late father, a renown CPA, telling us over lunch one day that his secretary – a Holocaust survivor over whom he had taken patronage – who had recently married his Iraqi intern, had walked into his office in tears, complaining that her husband started hitting her.

My father called his intern and asked him for an explanation, to which the young man answered: “This is our custom.” My father answered that in Israel this is not acceptable, and if he dared hit her again, he (my father) would lodge a complaint with the police.

In the course of last year, as numerous Mizrahi Likud MKs, in their Knesset speeches, started to curse, bad-mouth and use foul language in their attacks on the government of change, its members and certain members of the law enforcement agencies and judiciary, Ron Cahlili – a radical Mizrahi journalist, scriptwriter and film producer – explained in an article that in his family it was customary to curse, and he didn’t understand why the Left was up in arms on this issue, since “it is part of our culture.

“Who said that MKs cannot curse?” he asked.

Well, not every practice of Israel’s various ethnic communities is worthy of adoption on the national level – for example, the practice, in certain haredi communities, of “sexual conversion” for homosexuals, or that of polygamy by some Bedouin in the Negev.

When it comes to MK David Amsalem from the Likud, his practice of cursing, bad-mouthing and using foul language in his Knesset speeches keeps escalating, to the point that last week even opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu contacted Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to state that he did not support something that Amsalem had said about her, and had not approved it.

 MK DAVID AMSALEM addresses the Knesset plenum during a debate last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK DAVID AMSALEM addresses the Knesset plenum during a debate last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

What did Amsalem say? He complained that three petitions he had submitted to the High Court of Justice on various matters had been rejected by the court on the grounds that he did not hold legal standing in these cases. Instead of presenting legal arguments why these were wrong decisions, he referred to the Supreme Court as a “junta,” and argued that Hayut simply hates Amsalems, Mahlufs and Bitons (all Moroccan family names).

“What I saw yesterday,” he said in the Knesset plenum last Wednesday, “was President Hayut writing nonsense.... Last December I said that Justice Levin had drunk a bottle of arak [in fact, Amsalem accused Supreme Court Justice David Mintz, in a Knesset speech, of having drunk a bottle of whisky before rejecting a previous petition submitted by him, while Supreme Court justice Dov Levin served in the court in the years 1982-1995 – SHR]. Now, you tell me, what did Mrs. Hayut drink?”

Is David Amsalem’s style acceptable? Apparently, it is to certain members of the Likud, who blindly support Netanyahu on the one hand, and hold a deep hatred toward the old Ashkenazi elites, who are allegedly still supreme in all state and cultural institutions, while continuing to discriminate against the Mizrahim.

What can be done about this? Probably not very much. The MKs’ essential immunity protects them from being sued for libel, especially if what they said was said in the Knesset plenum. The rules of ethics for MKs could be sharpened, and made more effective, but these rules are totally useless if the Ethics Committee does not exist, because the opposition objects in the current situation to its being formed.

Hayut reacted to Amsalem’s harangue by sending him a personal letter, in which she stated, inter alia: “I wonder where all the poison and hatred, which lead you to say such horrible things about people you do not even know, come from.... We have reached far in life, I and you – I to the Supreme Court, and you were a minister in Israel, and today a member of the Knesset. I believe that from the place that we had the honor to reach – I and you – there is a duty to do good, to contribute to unity in Israel, and not to sow division and incitement.”

Amsalem merely mocked Hayut’s words.

I believe that if Netanyahu himself would tell his wayward MKs that the way they speak is frequently unacceptable, and that some of the things they say are also unacceptable, a change might be possible. But, apparently, he has no intention of doing so, since he believes that they help nurture the support for him and the Likud in certain right-wing circles. Besides, his own speeches are not exactly honeylipped and free of blind hatred and incitement.

I was especially sorry to see David Amsalem being welcomed warmly as a contestant on MasterChef VIP two weeks ago on Channel 12. If, in the Knesset, we observed the Mr. Hyde in Amsalem, on MasterChef – in which he was one of two winners – it was Dr. Jekyll: a sweet elderly man who loves nothing more than to cook Moroccan dishes, accompanied by a glass of arak or whisky, to delight his diners – that is, until he mounts the podium in the Knesset plenum and spews his venom in all directions.

I felt especially sorry for the two Ashkenazi chefs who pranced around Dr. Jekyll in admiration, apparently unaware of the fact that Mr. Hyde holds them in contempt.

A WEEK and a half ago, Netanyahu’s media lackey Yaakov Bardugo was removed by the temporary commander of Army Radio – which Defense Minister Benny Gantz had been planning to close down, but finally retracted – from being one of two anchors of the station’s very popular 5 p.m.-6 p.m. news roundup. Even though Bardugo was left with his personal Friday morning opinion program, he decided to resign from Army Radio, arguing that his removal from the news program was the result of political considerations designed to muffle his voice.

Undoubtedly, part of the motivation for Bardugo’s removal was political, but less due to the opinions he expressed than to his inarticulateness and aggressive style and demeanor, which created an unpleasant atmosphere in the military station.

Bardugo, a businessman and political activist, is not a journalist in any sense of the term, and serves in the media (he also has a weekly program on the right-wing Channel 14) mostly as a propagandist, who doesn’t always bother to check his facts, and makes embarrassing statements whose connection to reality is frequently nonexistent. In other words: a serial creator of fake news and alternative facts (a long list of which was published by Itai Rom in Haaretz last Monday).

In many respects, Bardugo’s removal from the prestigious news program on Army Radio (he was not fired!) was an awkward move, which has caused the radio station immense damage (the Jewish opposition has announced that it will boycott the station).

At the same time, while public radio and TV stations should do their utmost to be as politically balanced as possible, not only in terms of the content they broadcast, but the makeup of their broadcasting teams, there are limits. One cannot have an anchorman on a news program who is inarticulate, flimsy with facts and a bully, irrespective of his or her political positions.

The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, to be published in July in English by Routledge.