Not Another Committee

What is certain is that if you aim to revolutionize the Knesset, you better opt for a faster way than appointing a public committee.

In August 2003, then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin appointed the Zamir Committee to draft an ethics code for the legislature. This happened immediately after the ignominious double-voting scandal by Knesset members. "A large portion of the public views us as an assortment of sinners who are here mostly to further their own interests. The Knesset's standing is becoming increasingly compromised. We must purge our ranks," Rivlin said.

The Zamir Committee made a very exhaustive effort (some would say too exhaustive), which took more than three years. It presented its report in January 2007, when Rivlin was no longer speaker.

The 17th Knesset, in turn, conducted a very exhaustive effort to make the ethics code go away and disbanded without ever affirming such a code. In anticipation of being reelected as Knesset speaker, Rivlin said in an interview with Haaretz that he intended to appoint a committee of prominent figures, and headed by a retired justice, to propose ways to improve the legislature's image.

The Knesset's standing may be beyond grand metamorphoses. The status of parliaments in many Western democracies is in a state of crisis. What is certain is that if you aim to revolutionize the Knesset, you better opt for a faster way than appointing a public committee.

It's no secret that every new broom sweeps clean for a very limited period in which that broom can push reform forward. With time, the broom's bristles loosen and drop off, and resistance grows.

In Israel, where an MK's term lasts three years, the period in which newly-appointed officials can promote revolutionary initiatives is measured in months. There is no need to wait on a public committee to pass a new ethics code for the Knesset with deterrent penalties. There is a need to appoint a special committee of MKs to wrap up the ethics code prepared by the previous Knesset.

The appointees should be only those who accept marathon discussions that will do the job by the end of this May. The Knesset could thus affirm the changes to its code and pass the necessary legislative amendments as early as June.

It is customary in Israel to appoint honorable justices to head public committees and fill them with retired professors. But justices are a prime example of dignitaries with a very questionable contribution to discussions about ways to improve the Knesset's standing. And there is no need to invest resources in finding out why the Knesset is suffering from a compromised public image. Quite a few articles and studies have been written on the subject, including the colossal opinion survey the Knesset commissioned from pollster Mina Tzemach. Anyone interested in the root of the problem can receive a synopsis from the Knesset research and information department. What's needed are practical recommendations.

So instead of a public committee, Rivlin would best convene a few dozen political-science experts, media figures, spokespeople, strategic consultants and sociology professors to meet in three sessions at a hotel conference room. (Yes, it will cost some money and some people will criticize the spending.)

The image consultant Reuven Adler can contribute to this discussion far more than a retired justice. The former IDF spokesman and current MK Nachman Shai of Kadima can offer a greater contribution than most ex-ministers.

We don't need "exes" here. We need people who are currently connected to the shaping of public opinion in Israel, people who understand the essence of spin and how to lead an online campaign.

A small select group of such individuals would produce practical recommendations that could be implemented relatively quickly.

A practical document such as this is what Rivlin truly needs, not another report that he will be able to fit into one of his drawers two years from now.