What can be done about Amsalem? - opinion

Even if by some miracle Mickey Levy manages to form an Ethics Committee, it is questionable whether it can effectively deal with phenomena such as MK David Amsalem, whose verbiage is unaccebtable.

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

Last week Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy finally decided that he had enough, that it was time to appoint the Ethics Committee for Knesset members.

Since 1983, the Knesset has had Rules of Ethics for MKs, and the Ethics Committee is appointed at the beginning of each new Knesset to implement the provisions of the rules, with the assistance of the Knesset’s legal adviser. The committee is made up of four reputable serving MKs – two from the coalition and two from the opposition.

Surprisingly enough, the committee has usually been effective, even in stormy periods. However in the current Knesset, in which such a committee is more necessary than usual, the committee had not been formed due to the obstructive policy adopted by the opposition – their refusal to appoint its representatives to it.

Since numerous conversations with the opposition did not attain any results, Levy appointed the committee unilaterally – including two members from the opposition: MKs Gila Gamliel (Likud) and Yaakov Margi (Shas) – both experienced MKs, and worthy appointments. But both declined. After the Joint List also declined an offer to join the committee, it is rumored that due to the circumstances, Levy is playing with the idea of changing the law so that the Ethics Committee will be able to be made up of former MKs. 

However, even if by some miracle Levy manages to form the committee, it is questionable whether it can effectively deal with phenomena such as MK David Amsalem (Likud), whose verbiage – both inside and outside the Knesset – has long diverged from any acceptable norm.

 Likud MK David Amsalem being escorted out of the Knesset plenum on October 4, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH) Likud MK David Amsalem being escorted out of the Knesset plenum on October 4, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)

I should like to bring two examples of this, for those who have not witnessed Amsalem’s performances, or who do not know Hebrew.

A typical example occurred in the plenum on July 12, when the topic on the agenda was an amendment to the Insolvency and Economic Rehabilitation Law. Amsalem opened by stating that he wanted to tell a little joke about Superman, Snow White and Pinocchio, who are out for a walk. They come across a sign that advertises a contest for the strongest man in the world. Superman enters the premises and after five minutes comes out with the cup. Several minutes later they come across another sign that advertises a contest for the world’s beauty queen. This time Snow White enters, and soon comes out with the cup.

“They continue and see a sign for the greatest liar in the world,” says Amsalem. “Pinocchio says: ‘Guys, wait here for two minutes, I shall be out soon.’ Well, he goes in – one hour goes by, two hours, three. After seven hours he comes out in tears, and says: Who is this Bennett, who just beat me?’ Mr. Bennett, you are a liar, a crook, and a cheat. That is what you are. Shame on you.”

MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), a Reform rabbi and chairperson of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, shouted at Amsalem: “You are a shame to the Knesset,” to which Amsalem replied: “Incidentally, Reform rabbi, I had the honor to throw you out of the Interior Committee when we spoke of the outline for the Western Wall,” adding some libelous comments about the Reform Movement.

I checked. The said meeting of the Interior Committee, which Amsalem chaired, took place on November 8, 2016. Kariv, who was not an MK at the time, was invited as a guest. Amsalem was extremely polite toward him, and let him speak at length. He did not throw him out of the committee. On the contrary, Kariv stayed until the end of the meeting. I couldn’t find any other meeting, from the period that Amsalem was chairperson of the committee, from which he allegedly threw Kariv out.

Amsalem then went on to attack Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin. He chose to attack Elkin over an interview he and his wife had given to Yediot Aharonot several days prior, in which they spoke, inter alia, of how they met and fell in love when his wife-to-be served as his parliamentary assistant.

I have no idea when all this happened – whether it was while Elkin was in the Likud, or still in Kadima – but it was quite a while ago. Today they are married, with three children. True, they were both previously married and got divorced in order to unite. Earlier this year, the Elkins were under vicious attacks from Likud supporters because of Ze’ev’s entry into the new government, and they were trying to improve their public image.

What Amsalem did was to attack Elkin for being immoral, and for being guilty of a criminal offense (no less) for “messing around” with an employee, even though he did not know any of the details of what had occurred.

MK Ibtisam Mara’ana (Labor) protested, but it was she who was finally thrown out of the plenum by the presiding speaker – MK David Bitan (Likud) – while Amsalem continued to spew his poison, declaring that “the Left in the State of Israel is the most violent, corrupt, and bullying people that I know… You are heavy-handed, you have no values, you are cardboard people – you have no ideology, nothing except for chairs.”

Needless to say, Amsalem said nothing about the amendment that was on the agenda.

But this is all nothing compared with the pearls that spilled out of Amsalem’s mouth last Tuesday, when he spoke to several hundred mostly Netanyahu supporters on a Twitter Space. For four hours he spoke on many subjects and even gave them a detailed recipe for preparing Chraime (a spicy Moroccan fish dish).

When he spoke of the government, however – the Ashkenazi elites, the Left, and Israel’s Arab citizens – “incitement” is the only word that comes to mind regarding what came out of his mouth: “An insane, Bolshevik, anti-Zionist gang has taken control of the country,” Amsalem said. “The government of Palestine, floor rags. A bunch of children led by the arch-terrorist Mansour Abbas. Soon they will pass a law that will prevent the inhabitants of the development towns to vote.

“If I shall be speaker of the Knesset, I shall not let them enter the Knesset compound. Let them go to their Supreme Court. We shall also change the judges there – on the day that we shall win. Begin’s story of ‘there are judges in Jerusalem’ is over. We shall run them over. We shall bring laws over their heads from which they will not recover for 20 years. In order to rule we shall erase the word ‘justice.’ It no longer exists. We must lock them up in enclosures, otherwise they will kill us. The left-wingers are the rich and the owners of the assets in the state.”

He later went into a libelous harangue against Israel’s Arab citizens, which wouldn’t have shamed Rabbi Meir Kahane.

In the last week, we have not heard a single public word of condemnation from Amsalem’s colleagues in the Likud for this disgusting spillage. Instead we hear: “He spoke from the blood of his heart”; “His words were taken out of context”; “He is a marvelous man, and I love him.” Amsalem himself claims that he is being attacked only because of his Mizrahi origin.

So what can be done about David Amsalem? 

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, soon to be published in English by Routledge.