For Zion's Sake: To save the Knesset’s honor, make it change

The truth is that these “clowning antics” have plagued the Knesset for years. MKs have yelled, insulted, cursed and thrown water at each other – all in the halls of the Knesset.

The Knesset plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset plenum
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein wants to save the honor of the Knesset – he just does not believe there is anything for which the Knesset should be ashamed.
In an article entitled, “Fighting for the Knesset’s Honor,” recently published in Israel Hayom, Edelstein lamented how polls “repeatedly reveal” an “utter lack [of] confidence and faith in the political system, particularly the Knesset.”
Specifically, Edelstein pointed to an Israel Democracy Institute survey which “found that on top of the little faith Israelis place in the government and the [political] parties, the majority [of the public] also feels that the human quality among MKs has decreased.”
Edelstein, however, doubted “whether these sentiments are rooted in reality.” He argued that the public’s attitude simply did not accurately reflect the quality of the MKs he has come to know, the Knesset’s activities and its influence.
Edelstein had an idea about who to blame for the public’s misguided views, expressing sorrow “that substantial pieces of legislation that affect our lives receive little to no public attention, while the clowning antics of one MK make headlines.”
But denying the Knesset has a problem won’t make that problem go away.
After all, it is not just one MK.
Of course, we know to whom Edelstein is referring, but diplomatically declining to name: Likud MK Oren Hazan.
Hazan was accused by Channel 2 of hiring prostitutes and purchasing crystal meth for patrons of a casino he allegedly managed in Bulgaria. When Edelstein (trying to save the honor of the Knesset) barred Hazan – who is deputy speaker – from presiding over the Knesset plenum, Hazan threatened to dig up “stories” about the speaker, according to one of Edelstein’s aides.
It wasn’t the first time Hazan revealed a penchant for threats. Before the Channel 2 report, when the government and Knesset positions were being distributed, the junior MK threatened not to vote with the razor-thin coalition majority. Hazan thus secured himself membership in the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Finance Committee as well as the House Committee and the State Control Committee.
Hazan later continued his “clowning antics” by deriding a handicapped member of Knesset for receiving assistance in voting.
And most recently he recorded a confrontation with another MK in the Knesset’s parking garage and released it to the public. That was shortly after being suspended from non-essential Knesset activities for a month by the Knesset Ethics Committee.
But the Ethics Committee is one Knesset committee that should have its hands full, as Hazan is far from the only MK who has embarrassed himself and the Knesset.
In between Hazan’s escapades, MK Yinon Magal, in a high-profile “get” (Jewish divorce) from the Bayit Yehudi Party, resigned from the Knesset after a number of former female employees of his at Walla News, where he was editor-in-chief, complained that he sexually harassed them.
Less than a month later, the long-serving MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), who has served almost continuously in various ministerial or governmental positions since 1998, including as foreign minister and most recently as interior minister, also resigned due to allegations of sexual harassment by a number of women. (This resignation came a few days after Edelstein’s article).
Even the “victims” of MK Hazan’s antics did not exhibit the dignity one would expect from a lawmaker.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), the disabled MK who was victim of Hazan’s taunts, responded to Hazan by yelling in the Knesset plenum, “You’re garbage. You’re a piece of garbage.... You’re zero... Die! Die!” Then there is MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin of the Zionist Union whom Hazan videotaped in the Knesset parking lot. It is possible that Hazan was harassing her, as she later claimed. But Nahmias-Verbin’s crying-yelling and insults caught on the camera were hardly honorable.
The truth is that these “clowning antics” have plagued the Knesset for years. MKs have yelled, insulted, cursed and thrown water at each other – all in the halls of the Knesset. (A Google search for “Knesset fights” turns up a worthwhile video compilation).
And not to be forgotten, of course, are two of the most dishonorable ex-MKs. Former president Moshe Katzav, who served as an MK from 1977-2000 and went on to become Israel’s first president found guilty of rape. Ehud Olmert was a member of Knesset for a cumulative 30 years before becoming Israel’s first prime minister sentenced to prison.
But Katzav and Olmert are hardly the Knesset’s only members found guilty by courts of law. Some of them serve in the Knesset and government today.
MK Arye Deri of Shas just returned to the position of interior minister. The last time he served in that position was 15 years ago – just before he was sentenced to three years in prison for taking a $155,000 bribe.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi currently serves in two powerful Knesset positions: chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and coalition chairman.
But this former minister of justice was found guilty of false testimony to the Central Elections Committee, for lying about publishing a notice to Likud Central Committee members in which he touted that he was the “record-holder in political appointments.”
This notice led to an indictment for breach of public trust and “election bribery” (that is, bribery of Central Committee members whose votes Hanegbi sought), though Hanegbi was found not guilty of those charges.
As part of the convictions of Hanegbi and Deri, as well as numerous other MKs who were convicted of crimes, the court found that the guilty had acted with “dishonor,” a finding which precludes the guilty from returning to public office for some time.
On top of the criminal and clowning antics of MKs, there is even more to be embarrassed of: the disdain for the State of Israel as a Jewish state exhibited by left-wing and Arab MKs, some of which borders on the treasonous and on encouragement of violence; the constant game of musical chairs in which MKs jump from party to party; the haggling and threats between coalition members and factions, the calls and attempts to collapse governments only recently elected, and more.
In the last Knesset, 43 MKs voted to shut down a newspaper because of its support of the prime minister, while only 23 voted against. The prime minister left the vote disgruntled, rightly commenting, “This bill shames the Knesset.”
All of this is not merely in the public’s imagination or a sensationalist media depiction. The Knesset, and not just a single MK, has a real problem. And all the public can do is stand by, watch, and express its disappointment in surveys.
If Edelstein wants to save the honor of the Knesset, it will take more than media spin. It will take considering and attacking the root of the problem: a political system in which MKs are not subject to public scrutiny as part of their election; a system in which MKs are not directly elected and cannot be held accountable by the public itself. In this system, it is possible for the “one MK” whom Edelstein singled out to continue serving for years, without the public having any say in the matter.
When the public has no direct choice in who represents it in the Knesset and no ability to recall those MKs it disapproves of, it should come as no surprise to Edelstein that the public thinks little of the “human quality” of the MKs and of the Knesset itself.
The writer is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.