There is life after the Knesset
Lawmakers pull the right strings to find alternative employment.
Minister Yossi Peled resigned from the Knesset last week and is slated to leave the cabinet soon, too - and by next week, he will be ensconced as the chairman of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company. As his partymates are running around, trying to rally support from thousands of registered voters in order to ensure themselves a spot on the party's Knesset list, Peled will be sitting in the company's Tel Aviv offices and thanking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who saved him from the turmoil of primaries and gave him an attractive job.
Peled delayed his resignation by three months at the request of Netanyahu, who believed he might need his vote on a potential decision to attack Iran. Either way, the EAPC chairman enjoys a salary of NIS 48,000 a month, a company car and a challenging job. Peled will be working 80% of full time, which means he'll be earning NIS 40,000 a month, a bit less than ministers earn - but no worries, he also receives the pension afforded to a general in the reserves. Peled received the appointment after Netanyahu's earlier promise - to make him president of Israel Bonds - fell through.
Once, a Knesset member's aspiration was to become a minister. Now, no small number of Knesset members resign - in the beginning (those who weren't appointed ministers ), middle or toward the end of their terms. Thus they land a job with an attractive salary, a luxury car, advisers, secretaries and a driver, all while drawing significant public attention.
They save themselves the indignity of not making it into the next Knesset because their party lost support or because they got a low ranking on the party list. Furthermore, resigning mid-term lets them find a job before the next election, while their party leader and ministers from their party are still in a position to sign off on the appointment.
Every election cycle, about one-third of Knesset members are newcomers. That means 40 former Knesset members are being spat out into the job market. When that happens, apparently in early 2013, Peled and others will already be well-established.
Here are some of the others: A month ago, former Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (also a general in the reserves ) landed in Beijing to become Israel's new ambassador to China. The future of Ehud Barak's Atzmaut party, which split from the Labor Party last year, is up in the air. Multiple polls have shown that it would not make the Knesset were an election to be held now. And even if the party receives two seats - as a few polls have indicated it might - who is promising Vilnai that he will be one of its MKs, not to mention a minister in the next cabinet?
Anyway, Vilnai is now set for the next several years. His replacement as home front defense minister was former MK Avi Dichter of Kadima. Barak, who appointed Dichter to head the Shin Bet security service in 2000, offered Dichter this latest post and received Netanyahu's blessing. Regardless of whether the appointment is connected to Dichter's stance on attacking Iran, to Dichter's credit that he did not consider jumping ship at Kadima and taking his Knesset seat with him, unlike some of his partymates (including Yulia Shamalov Berkovich, Arie Bibi and Otniel Schneller ). He gave up his Knesset seat in favor of becoming a minister.
The question is for how long? Knesset sources say that this was a mistake, since an election will most likely be pushed forward to March 2013 and thus Dichter's tenure will be brief - about eight months. Given that polls indicate that Kadima will be getting only three or four Knesset seats, maybe he would have been better off jumping ship. Others say that his decision to join the Likud-led cabinet may actually help him win a seat in the Likud primaries, or with another party.
Other Kadima Knesset members have also jumped ship over the past few months. They include Eli Aflalo, whose political maneuverings landed him at the head of the Jewish National Fund. He's set through 2015, with a NIS 40,000-a-month salary, a car, driver, secretary and more. His past posts included industry and trade minister and immigrant absorption minister, and there's a chance that other fleeing Kadima MKs may come to him for jobs at the JNF. Now he earns about 4% less than he did as a minister. As a Knesset member, he was making NIS 37,300 a month.
Politicians have a thing for the JNF. Industry and Trade Minister Shalom Simhon also sought out that organization's top spot this year, which is currently held by Efi Stenzler. The battle made it into the courts, and Simhon lost, forcing him to stay in Atzmaut with its uncertain political future.
Back to Kadima: Party chairwoman Tzipi Livni left after 16 years in the Knesset, apparently not for a sweet job but in order to found a new party. Preparing the groundwork is another former Kadima member, Haim Ramon. Ramon, for his part, spent 26 years in the Knesset on and off, and now is busy in the business world: He's bought the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club in partnership with PR firm owner Moshe Teumim, and also served as chairman of the company LifeWave. He's also a board member at Bitu'ach Yashir insurance, Keter and Merhav, and helped businessman Shlomo Eliahu try to change the banking legislation blocking him from taking control of Bank Leumi.