A Law for Protecting Knesset Hacks

How can we know that the MKs' motives are impure? Because they always neglect to include anything relating to themselves in the bills.

Knesset members are worried. They fear that well-known personages, people with opinions and status, will slyly penetrate the Knesset fortress and lower its lofty standards. That's why this weekend they floated a bill that would obligate journalists to undergo a cooling-off period should they dare enter politics.

MK Carmel Shama (Likud) is seeking a one-year waiting period, Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) wants a year and a half. On the surface, it seems they are most concerned about the possible entry of TV host Yair Lapid into politics, that he may reduce the parliament's "standards" the way other journalists-turned-lawmakers Shelly Yachimovich, Daniel Ben Simon, Uri Orbach and Nitzan Horowitz did.

The truth is that MKs are worried about the crisis affecting the big parties.

They fear that the coming elections will bring a new party, a la Shinui (the secular, anti-clerical party headed by Lapid's father, a former television personality), led by or including Lapid that will draw in large segments of voters.

As such, the MKs - who essentially represent the strongest workers' committee in the country - are seeking to limit competition and ensure their place in the next Knesset.

Shama and Tirosh are ignoring the fact that the profession of journalism is actually the most appropriate for a transition to politics. Columnists attempt to influence affairs through the written and spoken word, and the work of a Knesset member is the direct extension of such public service by other means.

The two parliamentarians want no competitors - hence they seek cooling-off periods of 12 to 18 months.

After all, elections in Israel generally do not take place as scheduled, and it is difficult to know just when they will be held.

The last elections were moved forward and scheduled for October 27, 2008, then back to February 10 of last year. How could journalists resign a year and a half before the elections, when only three and a half months remained between the scheduling of the elections and the polls opening?

This is not the first time MKs have tried to perpetuate their hold on a Knesset seat. The same happened three years ago, in March 2007, when Yuval Steinitz (Likud) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) passed a draconian law for a cooling-off period for top military officers. That legislation stipulated that officers holding the rank of lieutenant general in the army - and their equivalents in the Shin Bet security service, Mossad, police and Prison Service - would have to endure a six-month waiting period.

Steinitz and Vilan were also attempting to limit competition, and ultimately extended the cooling-off period to three years.

How can we know that the MKs' motives are impure? Because they always neglect to include anything relating to themselves in the bills. They consistently forget to include a section subjecting lawmakers and ministers to that same cooling-off period following their government service, even though that period offers the most opportunities for corruption and conflicts of interest.

MKs vote in Knesset committees on matters determining the fate and income of the wealthy, and ministers decide on reforms and regulations of the utmost importance to business tycoons.

How can it be that the day they leave office, MKs and ministers can work in any business position, while employees of the Finance and Industry Ministries must undergo a yearlong cooling-off period?

Take, for example, the recent transitions of former prime minister Ehud Olmert to a senior position with the Livnat Group, of Haim Ramon to Keter Plastic and of fellow former MK Dan Naveh - who was also health minister - to a managerial position of a health care investment firm with Nochi Dankner's IDB Holdings. Are these appropriate? And let's not forget the current justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, who began representing the Eisenberg family in its sale of the Israel Corporation a week (!) after completing his work as finance minister in December 1998.

Knesset members are unperturbed. After successfully filtering out top army officers and preventing competition on the part of journalists, they will doubtless try to pass a similar law aimed at writers - those who dare spout their opinions in books and in interviews - and academics, who brazenly express their own views in the media.

After all, the Knesset needs only hacks and populists, whose very existence depends on incessantly playing to the lowest common denominator of public opinion.