Ehud Olmert and Moshe Ben-Ze'ev
Photo by Amos Biderman
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In the summer of 1987, nearly 40 years after Israel gained its independence, the Knesset House Committee decided to prohibit our elected representatives from engaging in other paid work - as lawyers, accountants or university lecturers - while serving in the parliament. A public committee was established to formulate legislation that would end the merrymaking of double employment. The committee was headed by former state comptroller Yitzhak Tunik, and its members included former attorney general Moshe Ben-Ze'ev and other lawyers.

The committee asked to hear the Knesset members' opinion on the proposed legislation and so, on July 15, then-Likud MK Ehud Olmert, who was also working as a lawyer, appeared before it.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which have come into Haaretz's posession, Olmert explains in detail why outside work should be allowed. He pulls out examples from the Knesset's history, brings supporting arguments from Britain and the United States, and calls the bill "a decree the public cannot accept." Tunik expresses astonishment. And then Olmert retorts: "What could be one of the results of a total prohibition? I will have to choose between continuing my professional activities and my public service. If I decide to continue my public service, I will cease working (as a lawyer ) entirely."

Olmert continues: "But there are all kinds of activities, such as taking bribes, for example. Cases of bribery usually involve two or three people who have no interest in admitting the matter. They are partners in a crime. I can imagine many Knesset members being engaged as go-betweens. They will not have an office, they will not have an organization. Everything will be done by word of mouth, in whispers, or under the table - and they will receive money ...

"Indeed it often happens that someone applies to me, not as a lawyer, and says: 'Listen, I have a problem. A certain authority is harassing me. Help me.' And usually, if there is a public aspect to this, I reply that I am prepared to look into the issue as a member of the Knesset, without any fee for my effort. I say to the [relevant] minister: 'I am approaching you as a public figure, as a Knesset member, and I am directing your attention to this matter.'

"Now it could be that I'd do that, but the person making the request said, up front: 'Listen, my friend, I will give you $5,000.' No one will know and neither side will have an interest in [anyone ] knowing. The income tax [people] won't know either. He'd give me the money in cash, as people often in any case offer you."

Says Tunik in response: "This argument is a bit hard to accept. For every prohibition the legislator imposes on all citizens, or on a given profession, you can always argue that it can be circumvented somehow. This still doesn't explain to the lawmaker why the prohibition should not be imposed."

Moshe Ben-Ze'ev: "Mr. Olmert, you have given an example of bribery. [If] we argue that because this is a decree, and because we do not impose decrees on the public that it cannot observe, should we make this abomination kosher? I mean bribery. There are, after all, things that have no alternative [and] you know in advance cannot be implemented."

At this stage, MK Olmert announces he has to run to a meeting with prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, but the committee members keep questioning him. He invokes MK Prof. David Libai, who like himself was then an active lawyer, and president of the Israel Bar Association.

"This man has reached the pinnacle of success in the profession," Olmert explains to his interlocutors, "not as an MK and not as a public figure but rather by virtue of his qualifications and his abilities ... and all this while being a Knesset member. Now he is being accused of exploiting his parliamentary status in order to succeed in his profession. Tomorrow, a veteran [in his field] will say: 'For me to be a legislator I have to cut myself off entirely from my life's work' ... I think this will be a deterrent factor."

Ben-Ze'ev: "You, with all due respect, are raising the subject in too simplistic a way. It isn't only in order to be a legislator. There are also political ambitions."

Tunik: "Mr. Olmert, with all due respect, you are taking as examples, and I say this frankly, yourself and Libai. You are taking that whole elite that ultimately will sit in the government. If this is not your ambition, you are degrading yourself. But this should be your ambition."

Olmert: "I am giving examples that serve the discussion of the issue. Do you want me take as an example a party hack? Someone who doesn't have any personal ethic? Who doesn't observe the rules?"

From Livni to Litzman

Last week Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism read opposition leader Kadima MK Tzipi Livni's anti-ultra-Orthodox manifesto, in her interview with Haaretz's Aluf Benn. Last Monday we ran into each other in the Knesset, at the entrance to the cafeteria.

"Nu, rabbi?" I asked him. "She tore you to pieces, Tzipi."

Litzman shook his head so hard his skullcap almost fell off and he launched into a monologue, the gist of which was: "Look who's talking! From her [party] we could have received even more!"

Litzman related how in the coalition negotiations he conducted with Livni in September 2008, after Olmert resigned as prime minister and she won the Kadima primaries, Livni was prepared to allocate money both for yeshivas and allowances - even heftier sums than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are paying today.

So why didn't you join?

Litzman: "Because of Jerusalem. The rabbis demanded a public declaration from her or a letter that she wouldn't conduct negotiations on Jerusalem. She didn't agree. But as far as the money goes - she promised us a lot more, I assure you."

It's hard for me to believe.

"I have a written promise. With all the amounts listed. It is with me here, always," he said, patting his chest.

You've been going around for a year and a half with a note in your pocket? Don't you have closets, drawers, safes, in your office, at home?

"I don't trust these things to anyone at the office. This note is with me all the time."

I asked to see it. At first Litzman played hard to get. Then he changed his mind, and pulled a black day planner out of his jacket pocket. A note - the note - fell out. A slip of white paper, battered, folded into quarters and its edges ragged. On it, in neat, round handwriting, three years were noted: 2009, 2010, 2011. Next to each was a sum larger than the one preceding it. Regrettably, Litzman whisked away the slip of paper and buried it deep in his jacket again. His associates say the sums for 2009 and 2010 are 10 to 20 percent more than what they are getting now, under Netanyahu.

Did Livni write this note herself?

"No. This is the handwriting of her former bureau chief, Amir Goldstein. He was on the negotiating team."

"It isn't by chance that Litzman refuses to show the note," responded Livni's associates. "First of all the amounts aren't more that what the ultra-Orthodox are getting today. Secondly - these referred to payments based on negative income tax - that is, for people who work and not straight allowances like Netanyahu is giving, and this of course changes the whole picture. And thirdly - Tzipi never saw that paper and she never approved what is written on it."

Back to Litzman, who responded: "Those are old wives' tales. Balderdash. I am telling you it's not referring to negative income tax but rather money directly for yeshivas and allowances, and more than what we got from Netanyahu."

How can I believe you if you won't let me look at the note?

"If Tzipi declares she is prepared for me to publish the note, I will consider photocopying it and sending it to you. I am not promising, but I will consider it."

"We aren't playing games," responded Livni's spokeswoman.

Livni's tactic is transparent: There are quite a few voters opposed to religious coercion and extortion who are making forays into the center-left arena. With Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and media personality Yair Lapid in that neighborhood, and Eldad Yaniv's "nationalist left," and the new movement Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz is trying to establish - Kadima and Livni have to build a bastion on the secular hill.

The ultra-Orthodox tactic is a bit more complex. United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni explicitly told the Kadima MKs in the Knesset plenum this week: "With you we would have had it better than with the Likud." But also this week, Menachem Gescheid, Litzman's adviser, wrote an article for the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth: "Part of the ultra-Orthodox public remembers fondly Yossi Sarid's days at the Education Ministry." And meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox are signaling to Netanyahu that he should keep the money flowing and not quarrel with them, because they have an alternative. That they aren't in his pocket.

Netanyahu can relax. They are deep in his pocket.

The taming of the MK

In her office at the Knesset sits Gila Gamliel, deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office for the advancement of young people, students and women. Netanyahu declares his support for two states - and she keeps mum. He freezes construction in the settlements, and she is busy with the status of young people, students and women. Netanyahu postpones the Likud's internal elections in order to block the right wing, and she helps him vis-a-vis her former patron Silvan Shalom, who is vice prime minister, minister of regional cooperation and minister of the development of the Negev and Galilee.

From 2003 to 2006, during Ariel Sharon's second term as prime minister, Gamliel was one of the Likud rebels who made Sharon's life a misery, over the disengagement and his relations with the United States. She tried to show him what's what. At that time she was a young, first-term MK. She and her colleagues drove Sharon to split the Likud and establish Kadima.

"The 'chaff' has left us today," said Gamliel about Sharon, Meir Sheetrit, Roni Bar-On, Livni and others at the time.

In the 2006 elections, Likud members chucked Gamliel off the list. She sat at home for three years, got married, completed a degree and had a child. She describes her behavior during her first years in politics as "an eclipse," as being childish and stupid. She vowed that if she returned, she would do everything the opposite way. She has been a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's office for 14 months now, and not everyone even remembers she is an MK. When she is told this, she takes it as a kind of compliment.