When the curtain falls
What happens when MKs take their leave of the Knesset? We catch up with eight former politicians to see if there are second acts in Israeli lives.
They served in key positions as government ministers and Knesset members. They influenced the public agenda and appeared nonstop in the media. Then one day they left the Knesset, abandoned the political arena and disappeared from public view. Shaul Yahalom became a restaurant critic; Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad joined a burial society; and Prof. Yoram Lass has become an inventor. Some former MKs describe the change in their lives as like exiting slavery for freedom. Others, however, are already planning a comeback...
Shaul Yahalom served as a Knesset member for the National Religious Party between 1992 and 2006, and was minister of transport in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first government, from 1998-99. He was considered a very active MK and advanced a large number of proposed social laws. Today, he holds a number of jobs, among others working as the restaurant critic for the religious Zionist weekly Matsav Haruah, which he heads. He is also chair of the Gilad Pension Fund and Moreshet publishing house, and a member of the boards of directors of various financial companies.
"I have retired from politics entirely," says Yahalom. "Today I am busy with other things. This satisfies me. I think every person has a replacement and he has to clear his place and retire in his prime. I am not one of those marvels like Shimon Peres," he says, referring to the 88-year-old Israeli President.
Born in 1924, Pesach Gruper lives in Atlit. He served as head of the local council there and then as Likud MK from 1974 to 1992. He was the minister of agriculture in Yitzhak Shamir's government. After leaving the Knesset he was chosen to head the Farmers Federation. In 2003, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, he announced his retirement from public life. In the 1980s, he became well known in part because of his attempts to build a train station in Atlit, after relating that when he rode the train, he would ask the engine driver to slow down at the entrance to his community so he could jump off while it was rolling.
"I'm not engaging in politics any more. That's it," says Gruper now. At my age, 80-something, I have done enough. I am no longer a party member or anything. I listen to the news and I read newspapers, like any citizen. These aren't my times. I live in Atlit, I have a family, the years go by."
Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad
Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad, who was born in 1932, served as an MK for the Moledet faction between 1992 and 1996. Rabbi Ba-Gad - dubbed "the gimmick champion" - was famed for the original visual aids he used for transmitting his messages. In one case, in August 1995, Ba-Gad sat down on the floor of the Knesset plenum during a speech by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and refused to leave. The action was an attempt to demonstrate the feelings of settlers who are asked to evacuate their homes.
"I established the Nahalim Yeshiva 50 years ago," he says. "I retired recently as head of the yeshiva and now I am only the president there. I have an office there. I have also volunteered for the Petah Tikva hevra kadisha (burial society ). They give me a list of people who have died recently, and I go to visit and encourage the bereaved in their homes."
Ba-Gad does not rule out the possibility of returning to the Knesset as a member. "I visit the Knesset every week, when I go to visit my children in Jerusalem. Will I go back to serving in the Knesset one day? That's in the hands of heaven."
Yacov Ben Yizri
Yacov Ben Yizri served as health minister in Ehud Olmert's government and as an MK on behalf of the Pensioners party from 2006 to 2009. He was born in Morocco and immigrated to Israel in 1949, at the age of 22. During his time as minister, he succeeded in increasing the individual health benefits care budget - known as "the health basket" - by hundreds of millions of shekels.
Ben Yizri is not nostalgic for his time in the Knesset. "Don't forget, you are talking with a person who will soon be 85. I spent three very difficult years in the Knesset, during which I gave my all to this public work. I am not complaining, heaven forbid. I am also active, as a bereaved husband/father, in the system for rehabilitating bereaved families. That's the main thing I do. My wife, with whom I lived for 70 years, passed away and I have been a widower for three years. Add to this the fact that in the past I lost my son. All this affects my health."
Former MK Yehiel Hazan served in the Knesset from 2003 to 2006 in the Likud faction. He is remembered mainly for his conviction on charges of forgery, fraud and breach of trust in the Knesset "double voting" affair. He was convicted after voting for the state budget in his own name and in the name of former MK Inbal Gavrieli, who was absent from the 2003 vote. To this day he protests his innocence, saying a case was fabricated against him because he opposed the Gaza disengagement plan. Hazan refused to be interviewed for this report.
Since his conviction, he has lost faith in the media. He refers journalists who contact him to a spokesman he has hired. "I am still engaged in public activity, without pay, for the benefit of the Jewish people," he agreed to say yesterday.
Tamar Gozansky served as an MK on behalf of Hadash from 1990 to 2003, and retired when the party's rules forbade her from running again. Gozansky is considered a leading social legislator who advanced laws in the areas of workers' rights, rights of the individual and women's rights. Ever since her retirement from the Knesset, she has been active in the Communist Party, Hadash and the Democratic Women's Movement.
"I also try to devote more time to writing," she says. "What will come of it, I do not know."
She has no plans to return to the Knesset. "Life is like a river. The water doesn't flow backward. There's no need to take this as a decree. From my perspective, it's something wonderful."
Gozansky took part in the protest demonstrations last summer and graciously accepted the fact that, with the passage of years, the media were in no hurry to hear what she had to say on the matter. "I think every generation needs its own leaders. I am from a different generation."
Prof. Yoram Lass
Prof. Yoram Lass first became known to the general public when he moderated the science magazine program "Tatzpit" on Channel 1, together with Yael Dan. He was later appointed director general of the Health Ministry and was elected to the Knesset on behalf of the Labor Party in 1992, at the time of the Rabin government. One of the main measures he led was the formulation of supplementary health insurance at the health maintenance organizations.
Since leaving political life, Lass has gone back to teaching medicine at university and has also established a number of enterprises in the patents area. "I'm an inventor by nature," says Lass. "I left politics in 1996 - I am not all that suited to it. I haven't the strength to deal with nonsense.
"Twelve years ago I founded a start-up company, for a television screen on which things move when you touch and move it. Now this exists on nearly every mobile phone. Then, no one understood me. The idea was fine but the timing was terrible," he relates.
Today, Lass heads a company that develops water filters based on used dialysis filters.
An MK on behalf of Shinui from 2003 to 2006, Melli Polishuk-Bloch was an activist in the party for 30 years. Ever since Shinui disbanded, Polishuk-Bloch has persisted in intensive public activity and does not rule out the possibility of running again for a seat in the Knesset, this time as a member of the Labor Party.
"After they destroyed Shinui, I established a new movement - Derekh Aheret [A Different Way]," she says. "In this framework, two years later I ran for mayor of Ra'anana. I ran and I was elected as a member of the city council. For six years I didn't belong to any party. A year ago I made a decision and decided to return to political activity, and joined Labor.
"Lots of people have been contacting me and asking me to return to the Knesset," she adds. "I know how much good I did, and I am definitely considering this positively."
Polishuk-Bloch is also serving as chair of the association of elected female officials on local councils, and is promoting legislation to expand the authority of council members.