Largest-ever Number of Ex-journalists May Enter Knesset

There has been a flood of journalists entering politics this year, across both ends of the spectrum.

Journalists entering politics is nothing new. Uri Avnery had been editor of Ha'olam Hazeh. Shulamit Aloni was a radio star and journalist in the 1950s and 1960s before becoming a Knesset member. Former Haaretz editor Gershom Schocken served in the Knesset, as did Kol Ha'am editor Moshe Sneh.

This year, however, there has been a veritable flood of journalists: Former army spokesman Nahman Shai in Kadima; Shelly Yachimovich and former Haaretz reporter Daniel Ben Simon in Labor; and Tzipi Hotovely, a panelist on television's "Council of Sages," in Likud.

And the trend extends to smaller parties as well. Former Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Gideon Reicher is joining the Pensioners. Channel 10's foreign news editor, Nitzan Horowitz, is negotiating with Meretz. Journalist Uri Orbach is flirting with Habayit Hayehudi and television presenter Orli Levy has joined Yisrael Beiteinu.

The surge probably stems in part from Yachimovich's stunning success. Yachimovich believes that journalism prepares people for politics far better than does academia or the army - some of whose graduates have been notable political flops.

Yet not all journalists succeed in politics. MK Yosef Shagal (Yisrael Beiteinu), a Russian-language television star, disappeared once he entered the Knesset. Perhaps that is because he lacked one of the main talents most journalists bring with them: fluency in Hebrew.

Journalists-turned-MKs come in two varieties. Some, like Yachimovich or the late Shinui chairman Yosef Lapid, take advantage of their popularity as journalists to jump straight into politics. Others, like Silvan Shalom (Likud), Yossi Sarid (Labor and Meretz) and Yossi Beilin (Labor and Meretz), started out as journalists but then spent time in the civil service or as party functionaries before entering the Knesset.

Sarid sees a big difference between the journalists who entered politics in the past and those entering today. Aloni and Avnery, he said, belonged to an age when the line between journalism and politics was far more clear than it is today. "They never crossed a boundary; they were always in the space between writing and politics," he said. "These were people who were always more than journalists and more than politicians."

"Today, we're already reaching the second and third rank of journalists," he added.

Some of today's candidates, Sarid charged, have more name recognition than talent. They are celebrities born of an age when being a media star merely means being able to formulate crisp, provocative, 15-second sound bites. Even print journalists like Ben Simon or Reicher, he argued, were chosen less for their journalistic talents than because television had made them famous.

"Parties want to adorn themselves with journalists because they are well-known," agreed MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor).

But Ben Simon disagrees. He entered politics, he said, because he felt that "I'd reached the limits of my ability to influence as a journalist," and that only by entering the Knesset could he have a greater impact.

Not all journalists are thrilled with the trend. Former Davar editor Danny Bloch, for instance, believes there ought to be a cooling off period for journalists entering politics. Otherwise, he warned, readers will begin suspecting that journalists' coverage of political parties is influenced by their desire to secure a safe slot on a given party's slate.