Treasury Official Boycotts Knesset Panel Over Seating Arrangement

MKs and invited speakers at such hearings traditionally sit together around a circular table. On Tuesday, the MKs arrangement resembled the U.S. Congress rather than the Knesset, and it didn’t end well

A group including Dorit Salinger, commissioner at Israel's finance ministry, right, pose for a photograph during the opening of the new stock exchange building in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.
Ariel Jerozolimski/Bloomberg

The initial meeting of the Knesset committee investigating the credit arrangements of major lenders blew up on Tuesday, after a senior Finance Ministry official boycotted the hearing because of the seating arrangement.

MKs and invited speakers at such hearings traditionally sit together around a circular table. On Tuesday, the MKs sat in a half-circle at the head of the room, while a small, round table was brought in for the invited speakers, the first scheduled one being Dorit Salinger, the commissioner of the Capital Market, Insurance and Savings Authority. The arrangement resembled the U.S. Congress rather than the Knesset, and it didn’t end well.

Salinger was at her car in the parking lot when one of the authority’s officials informed her of the situation in the hearing room. The commissioner did an about-face and announced she was not prepared to attend the hearing if she wasn’t allowed to sit among her people, but was instead forced to sit alone facing the elected officials.

It is likely that had they informed Salinger in advance, she would not have reacted this way. However, her reaction caused the MKs to discuss the relationship between them and the government bureaucracy, rather than the subject for which the committee gathered.

The Knesset members reacted angrily. If until now we were used to their anger at deputies of the budgetary division attacking the Finance Committee, or over personal disputes – like the one that erupted between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and the former director of the Government Companies Authority, Ori Yogev – this time an all-out conflict erupted. The coalition and opposition were united against all the government bureaucrats. Salinger’s rebellion let the genie out of the bottle, which had nothing to do with credit to major lenders.

The committee’s chairman, Eitan Cabel of Zionist Union, asked: “Bureaucrats will decide how we will run things? That’s new.” He said it was not a semantic matter. “We are defining here today the relationship between the supervising authority and the executive authority,” he said.

“We have long known, be it the opposition or the coalition, that there are many confused people who think they can dictate to the supervisory authority how to run things. It won’t happen. This is an investigative committee that the Knesset established by unanimous vote. If Dorit thinks that at the end of her term she doesn’t have to give a damn about us, then she is mistaken.”

MK Yoav Kish (Likud) said, “We are seeing a symptom of the bureaucrats’ attitude toward the Knesset, which we have to deal with.” MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) said Salinger had a lot to her credit, but that she threw it all away with one act. “I fear her non-appearance at the last moment in the committee was coordinated with the others who are supposed to show up here.”

Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) described the situation as a humiliation of the Knesset, in which a senior official prevented MKs from getting to the truth. “It’s a serious incident,” he said, calling on Salinger to resign. MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said Salinger is going home soon anyway, “but she must not permit herself to prevent the parliamentary supervisor from doing its work.”

This is not the first time Salinger has made things hard for a Knesset committee. Last year, she created difficulties for the subcommittee that preceded the current one before agreeing to testify.

Meanwhile, she did a great job for the heads of the major banks. Indeed, the capital markets authority is not the main reason why the committee was established. Salinger was supposed to be just an opening act. The table at the room’s center was meant for the CEOs of the major banks and Bank of Israel directors, who are only to testify after the fall holidays.

However, she is expected to face tough questions, whenever she does show up.