Get Out of Jail Free – Just Win an Election in Israel

Some have argued against allowing convicted criminals to serve in the Israeli government, but the greater worry is politicians using public office to avoid prosecution.

Aryeh Deri was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. No one denies that. After he paid the fine, served his prison term and sat out the period of time required for the crime of moral turpitude, Deri, by law, is permitted to run for Knesset. No one denies that either.

Deri’s return to public life, then, is dependent on his own conscience and the standards of the voters. He is apparently fine with the idea of a convicted criminal running for Knesset. His voters, polls show, aren’t abandoning Shas due to his presence at the helm. Since the law permits it, his conscience is clear and the public supports him, there’s nothing really preventing Deri from leading Shas into the 19th Knesset. Beyond that, the opinions of public figures from other parties regarding Deri’s return to politics are dependent on their personal moral standards and (naturally) political considerations.

Attorney Eldad Yaniv, for example, who is running for Knesset with the Eretz Hadasha party, believes that people who have been convicted of crimes should not serve in public office. Yaniv admitted, less than a year ago, in an interview with Gidi Weitz in the Haaretz Magazine, that he had been part of the Israeli “Cosa Nostra” and added, “I think that in the very near future, people will go to jail for things that I’ve done.”

But Yaniv was never convicted of anything. No one denies that. So according to his standards, he’s free to run for Knesset. By this logic, someone who was investigated, charged, convicted and imprisoned, who paid his debt to society and has won the renewed trust of a large population, should not run for Knesset. But someone who sinned and evaded punishment is fit for government service. The disgrace, according to Yaniv, is not in having sinned, but in having been caught. The entire law enforcement system – the police, the prosecution, the courts and the Israel Prison Service – is no match for an emotional newspaper interview and a round of confessions made in Tel Aviv bars and on websites.

Eretz Hadasha may be an election oddity – no national poll shows it even close to the electoral threshold – but the declarations of its leaders are worrisome. If we’ve so despaired that we’ve become accustomed to politicians who see parliamentary life as a cushy job with a great pension and car benefits, here we have a new, problematic phenomenon: people with a dubious past who want to be elected to Knesset to obtain parliamentary immunity.

Yaniv has declared openly, at various parlor meetings in Tel Aviv, that if elected to the Knesset he has no intention of wasting time on legislation and sitting in exhausting Knesset committee meetings to draw up, improve and sometimes neuter legislative proposals. So what would he do? Yaniv, if elected, plans to use his parliamentary immunity to break the law and not pay a price. He has declared this as well.

Perhaps to some people it sounds almost romantic – come, let’s vote for some pirate figure who will break the law in the name of our values. The question is: What are our values and what are his values? Eldad Yaniv sat in a suit each week in the studio of Channel 10's “Council of the Wise” news analysis program and preached to viewers that only the confluence of government and capital can move the country forward. After that, he switched direction and tried to change Israeli politics with the National Left movement. But that new politics got stale pretty quickly.

“The National Left belongs to the old politics,” Yaniv said recently. “It’s over and done with.”

Lots of things are eventually over and done with and are replaced by other things – ideologies, interests, centers of power and trends. And parliamentary immunity only lasts until the end of your term.

Gil Eliahu