No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Despite the Knesset's poor image, there are definitely outstanding MKs - but that does not guarantee them anything.

Is there a reward for parliamentary activity? Does the fact that you were an active and even outstanding Knesset member ensure you another term? Experience shows that the answer is no, especially if you belong to a small party. In the upcoming election, for instance, it is far from clear that Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Meimad), who was undoubtedly one of the most successful MKs of the 17th Knesset, will be reelected.

In general, small parties seem to produce a higher percentage of good and diligent MKs. Perhaps that is because these parties have less room, so only the good survive. Perhaps it is because members of small parties do not view the Knesset as a mere way station en route to the cabinet, or a painful interlude between one ministerial post and the next, but as their place of work. Yet these MKs have trouble surviving.

In the summer of 2003, Hadash got rid of Tamar Gozansky, an outstanding MK even according to her worst political foes, and one who spearheaded the battle for social justice. Only three years later were her giant shoes filled by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash).

At first glance, this is proof that no one, not even Gozansky, is irreplaceable. But it also raises the question of why there is not room enough for the both of them. The answer is that Hadash is a small party supported mainly by Arab voters, so it has no room for more than one Jew. It is hard not to wonder whether some day, it will decide that Khenin, too, has served his purpose and must go. As things look now, should Khenin run for Knesset on his own list, or as head of the Green Party, he would win many more seats than Hadash. But no one knows what tomorrow will bring.

MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party) suffered from an aggressive image, to which his expansive girth may have contributed. In fact, however, he was a diligent MK who was active in many fields, including social and constitutional issues. That did not stop him from being pushed into an unrealistic slot on the National Union-NRP list for the 17th Knesset. The fact that he was replaced by MK Eliahu Gabbay, who will be remembered primarily for his battle against the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, only deepens the insult.

Many people probably do not remember, but the 14th Knesset had an outstanding MK named Alex Lubotzky, who, like Melchior, came from the moderate faction of the religious Zionist public. Lubotzky entered the Knesset as part of the Third Way party headed by Avigdor Kahalani, and he was undoubtedly the party's greatest contribution to the Knesset. He was especially instrumental in resolving the crisis over the Conversion Law, which threatened to create a schism between Israel and American Jewry. But at the end of the term, Third Way disappeared, and with it, Lubotzky as well.

The 17th Knesset produced two legislative revolutions. One was the "green revolution," which completely changed the face of Israel's environmental legislation, and the other was a series of important laws relating to education. Melchior, as chairman of the environmental caucus, was a partner in the green revolution led by Khenin, which included sweeping legislation such as the Clean Air Law and the "polluter pays" law. And Melchior led the educational revolution, in the process turning the generally unimportant Education Committee into a very efficient factory for legislation. Among the laws it passed were one extending compulsory education to age 18, one creating a mixed religious-secular school system, and the Public Libraries Law.

None of this helped him, however, because Meimad's home for the last 10 years, the Labor Party, is facing a serious dearth of seats, so it is no longer able to reserve a slot for a religious reinforcement. One could argue that this is the deserved fate of someone who has consistently refused to subject himself to the test of an election. But Meimad's public is small, so joining up with a larger faction would seem to have been the correct, and perhaps even the only, choice.

Melchior has now recruited Minister Ami Ayalon to head his list. It is a bit hard to understand how Ayalon, who did not fare particularly well during the past term, is supposed to serve as a savior. Nevertheless, Meimad is convinced that it will be the surprise of the upcoming election.

Whether or not this proves true, two unambiguous conclusions can already be drawn: First, despite the Knesset's poor image, there are definitely outstanding MKs - but that does not guarantee them anything. And second, there is definitely a sound basis for the ancient saying that no good deed goes unpunished.