Call to Order / Professional Badmouthers

Many Knesset members see hurling verbal barbs as part of the job, and as crucial to political survival.

Officially, Knesset members speak out a lot against verbal violence. But what do they really think about shouting, honed insults, curses and comparisons to Nazis? Dr. Ariel Livneh interviewed 30 legislators from previous Knessets for his doctoral thesis, and found that at least some of them see verbal violence as an existential necessity and a "working tool." They also understand other parliamentarians' political need to hurt and insult them. "For an MK to win the esteem of those around him, he has to come off as the offender," says Livneh. This, of course, is how to get media coverage, which is essential to political survival. Sometimes, MKs told Livneh, vociferous fights in the plenum are planned and agreed on in advance.

Livneh, a criminologist, wrote his thesis on two professions where violence is part of the "professional life": the Knesset, with its verbal violence, and basketball, with its physical violence. Sports also have quite a bit of verbal violence, and Livneh found a similar tolerance in both professions. "If you aren't there, you don't exist," some players told him. That is, if the fans don't curse you, you apparently are not a valued player. For the Knesset members, "verbal violence in the plenum is a kind of game, a tough one, but it is not violence for its own sake."

The interviewees said that Knesset members are aware that everyone has an existential need to attract media attention. Therefore, some MKs are always looking for an opportunity to attack. This verbal violence increases, of course, as elections draw near. A former MK explained: "MKs have no past, only a future."

"In most cases, there is no real intention to hurt the victim, and both sides know this," interviewees told Livneh. And indeed, MKs noted that they are not insulted by verbal barbs in the political arena, and "learn to grow thick skin like an elephant." On a personal level, however, they can be hurt like ordinary mortals.

"Knesset members usually don't attack with verbal violence once they have finished their terms," Livneh says. A former MK who served four terms and acquired a reputation for having a particularly sharp and hurtful tongue was asked how he behaves now that he is retired.

"The verbal aggressiveness didn't come home with me. It was just part of the professional demands of the job. Now it seems like a waste to insult somebody when there aren't any cameras around," he said.

Israelis prefer blondes

Aside from immigrating under the Law of Return, practically the only way to obtain Israeli citizenship is to marry an Israeli. Up until about 15 years ago, citizenship was granted in a simple and quick procedure. But after the Oslo agreement, when Palestinians started to use the family reunification procedure to become Israeli citizens, a long, exhausting "graduated procedure" was introduced. It is supposed to take four and a half years, but it often takes much longer.

Dr. Dafna Hacker is studying the legal status of foreigners married to Israelis. Through her research, she received Interior Ministry data on naturalization requests from people who married Israelis between 1998 and 2006. The most remarkable figure is that there were 13,700 citizenship requests from women, but only 7,400 from men. This means that there are two Israeli men who married a foreigner for every Israeli woman who did the same.

Altogether, 21,379 citizenship applications were submitted by spouses of Israelis. Of them, 17,037, or 80 percent, were approved. This figure is equal to only about 0.25 percent of Israel's population.

Just because the applications were approved does not necessarily mean that these people have already received citizenship, but only that they have received authorization to start the graduated procedure. For example, about 2,600 Palestinians submitted such requests during this period, but it is reasonable to assume that few - if any - have completed the process. In March 2002, all family reunification proceedings regarding Palestinians were frozen.

About half of the applications - some 9,800 - were submitted by people from the former Soviet Union. Presumably, many of these are from people who married immigrants eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return immediately before, or sometime after, they moved to Israel.

Another evident conclusion is that Israelis usually do not marry foreign workers, unless they are pale-skinned. A total of 1,333 citizenship applications were submitted for Romanians, and 710 were submitted for Moldavians. This compares to the 567 applications for Filipinos; 210 for Thais; 230 for Colombians; 214 for Turks; 80 for Chinese; and 36 from Ghanians.

Only about 900 applications were submitted for Africans (about 100 a year). Of these, 350 were for Ethiopian citizens and 142 for Moroccans, but the variety is impressive: three from Zimbabwe, two from Zambia, 16 from Mauritius, one from Burkina Faso, four from Mozambique and 88 from Nigeria. About 1,100 applications were submitted for citizens of Arab nations. Of these, half were for Jordanians. Anyone who wants to see this as part of the fruits of peace is welcome to do so. There were also six applications from Iraqis, 28 from Saudi Arabians and 11 from Libyans.

Hacker also received the conversion figures for the rabbinic courts. About 22,500 people converted to Judaism during the first half of the decade (2001-2005). Ostensibly, this figure - 4,500 a year - is impressive. However, 14,000 of them were immigrants from Ethiopia, mostly members of the Falashmura. This leaves only 8,400 (about 1,700 a year) from the rest of the world. Only about 4,850 (less than 1,000 annually) were from the former Soviet Union - a resounding failure for the conversion system.

Apart from the former USSR, three "conversion powers" stand out: India, with more than 500 converts, presumably nearly all of them from the Menashe tribe; Peru, with 350 converts, some of them Indians; and Romania, with about 350 converts (it is reasonable to assume that this figure is connected to the marriage data.)