Making Chikli a defector - opinion

What sets this meeting apart, is the fact that the Jewish opposition reached new depths of unparliamentary behavior and sewer discourse. 

 MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Last Monday, a rather exceptional (in the negative sense of the term) meeting took place in the Knesset House Committee. 

It was a meeting that dealt with the request of the Yamina parliamentary group that MK Amichai Chikli be declared a defector (someone who has quit his group without its consent), who if he does not immediately resign from the Knesset is not only unable to join another parliamentary group in the same Knesset, but is also unable to run in the next elections on an existing list.

The previous time that such a meeting was held was the request of Yisrael Beytenu to declare MK Orly Levy-Abecassis as defector from its parliamentary group, on March 15, 2017. 

The background to that event was Levy-Abecassis’s refusal to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government under the conditions that Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman had agreed to.

The similarities between the two cases were that in both cases the said MKs refused to join the government their party leaders had decided to join (in Chikli’s case – to lead), and in both cases it took the respective parliamentary groups many months to start the proceedings against the two MKs. 

 MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset, April 25, 2022.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset, April 25, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

However, in the recent case, Yamina’s request was connected to the very shaky state of the coalition it heads, following the announcement by MK Idit Silman that she was leaving it. 

Until last week, Chikli formally remained part of Yamina and was therefore counted among the 61 MKs supporting the government, even though he had stopped coming to Yamina parliamentary group’s meetings and obeying coalition discipline, and frequently voted with the opposition.

 Now Yamina decided to formalize Chikli’s position as a defector, as a warning to Silman, and additional potential deserters.

However, what sets this meeting apart, is the fact that the Jewish opposition reached new depths of unparliamentary behavior and sewer discourse. 

In the meeting that lasted for 10 hours (the meeting’s minutes are 389 pages long) the sole purpose of the MKs from the Likud, Religious Zionist Party, Shas, plus Yitzhak Pindrus from United Torah Judaism, seemed to be to praise Chikli, and badmouth Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the government (especially Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, who represented Bennett at the meeting) and the hapless, long-serving legal adviser of the committee – attorney Arbel Astrakhan – of whose legal reports they disapproved. 

What is most amazing about this story is that it was clear from the very start that everyone knew Bennett’s request would be approved, because, except for MK Pindrus, who is a member of the committee, none of the other Jewish opposition MKs who participated is a member, because they have officially boycotted the Knesset committees ever since the current government was formed more than 10 months ago. 

And indeed, at close to 9:45 p.m. on Monday, Chikli was declared a defector by a vote of seven members of the coalition in favor, with no one voting against and no one officially abstaining. 

Pindrus did not participate, claiming that the meeting, which he kept referring to as a theater of the absurd, “does not represent the Knesset.” 

The one ray of sunlight at this meeting was MK Eitan Ginzburg from Blue and White, who is one of the deputy Knesset speakers, and was requested to chair this meeting, due to the fact that the permanent chairman of the House Committee, MK Nir Orbach (Yamina), was in mourning, sitting shiva for his mother.

I do not know whether Ginzburg took tranquilizers before the meeting or whether he has simply grown a thick skin during the months that he has served as deputy speaker, but he didn’t raise his voice even once during the whole meeting (or at least during the four hours that I sat glued to the Knesset Channel). 

Again and again he begged the opposition MKs to stop disturbing. Likud’s David Amsalem had the gall to answer once: “I don’t want to” and another time “I am not disturbing.” 

Repeatedly Ginzburg declared in a calm voice to various MKs, “I am calling you to order for the first time,” “I am calling you to order for the second time,” “I am calling you to order for the third time,” and then occasionally actually having them removed from the meeting for a while.

I was thinking that perhaps Ginzburg has missed his true vocation: to be the caretaker of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some other behavioral disorders, though on second thought the Knesset would lose one of its sanest and most positive members.

The Likudniks at the meeting apparently disagree with me. Among the nicknames attached to him during the meeting: “You are a useful slave” (Levy-Abecassis) and “You are a urinated dictator (‘dictator mushtan’)” (MK May Golan). 

In a TV interview on Saturday evening, Golan argued that she had been frustrated because Ginzburg had constantly stopped members of the opposition from talking, which is a total lie. He gave every MK who wanted to speak the right to speak. What he tried to stop (with very little success) were their constant rude and/or cynical interruptions of other speakers.

Kahana was offered a pile of insults of his own. Amsalem wanted to know why Kahana (who is not an MK thanks to the “Norwegian Law”) was allowed to sit in the committee, while at first several MKs couldn’t find a free seat. 

Later on, Amsalem shouted at him: “You are simply crooks: you and your boss are crooks,” and “I am unable to refer to him as ‘minister.’” 

From the minutes (and media reports) it seemed as though MK Miri Regev had yelled at him that he was a “political pig – a culinary pig,” but then, a little later, in her Facebook account she repeated the “compliment” in reference to Bennett. 

In general, our former culture and sports minister has got into the habit of referring to the government and its members with various derivatives of the word “chazir” (pig): “chazirut,” “chaziri.” 

I had never before concentrated on Pindrus: an ultra-Orthodox former mayor of Betar Illit and deputy mayor of Jerusalem – one of the younger Litvak MKs, but nevertheless, with many years of constructive public activity. 

But after hearing and reading what Pindrus had said (mostly in the form of heckles) during the meeting, I was in total shock. Here are a few examples:

Like Amsalem, who chose to insult attorney Astrakhan, accusing her of having joined one of the coalition parties (a total lie), Pindrus hurled at her: “from my acquaintance with you – you are rotten (mekulkelet).” 

He kept referring to Bennett as the “great crook from Ra’anana”, and repeatedly asked whether “the ice cream in Ra’anana is pistachio” (Bibi’s favorite ice cream for which the Netanyahus allegedly spent NIS 3,000 in a single year).

But the crème de la crème was his suggestion to Chikli: “If you are a right-winger, don’t go to the High Court of Justice [to appeal the expected decision of the committee]… One only goes to the HCJ with a [Caterpillar] D9 [bulldozer], to tear down the building.”

And to think that if, as may well happen, Netanyahu will form Israel’s 37th Government in the foreseeable future, some of the MK’s whose names I have mentioned above will probably be appointed as ministers.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge in July.