On February 6 MK Oren Hazan (Likud) gave another one of his shameful performances in the Knesset plenum, in which he insults Arab and women MKs from the opposition, refutes the existence of a Palestinian people using mocking and derogatory terms, attacks and insults deputy speaker Ahmed Tibi and stalls when told to leave the podium because his time is up, or when told to leave the plenary hall after being warned three times to stop obstructing the proceedings.
These performances shame the Knesset and the Likud of which he is a member, and prove time and again that democracy has a problem dealing with individuals who successfully enter the political arena but refuse to play by the rules of the game.
The law does not enable the Knesset to expel an MK unless he has been found guilty by a court of law of a criminal offense that involves moral turpitude. Oren Hazan has not stood trial on a criminal offense.
Since last year 90 MKs can suspend an MK for incitement to racism or support of a terrorist organization or enemy state, even if he or she has not been tried on such charges. However, even though Hazan frequently defames and insults Arabs, the High Court of Justice has established the principle that words alone, unaccompanied by actions, are not sufficient grounds to ban anyone from Knesset membership. That applies equally to Arab MKs, who express support for the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, and to Hazan, who badmouths Arabs.
A parliamentary group can impose sanctions against one of its members who has acted contrary to its instructions or who has behaved in a shameful manner, but cannot force him to give up his seat.
Since he was elected to the 20th Knesset in 2015, various disciplinary measures have been taken against Hazan.
The Knesset Ethics Committee dealt with a whole row of complaints against him in December 2015 – the most serious of which involved the rumpus Hazan had caused over MK Isawi Frej (the Joint List) helping the physically handicapped MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) to vote during the voting on the Budget Law for 2016-17, which involved insults against both Frej and Elharar.
The committee decided to suspend Hazan from sittings of the plenum and meetings of the Knesset committees for four weeks. After pointing out that it distinguishes between the expression of political views, even if they are extreme and objectionable, and expressions that constitute “profanity, defamation, slander and contempt of individuals and of communities,” the committee concluded that “MK Hazan systematically uses low and offensive expressions against various MKs, and lashes out at them, occasionally using threatening language.”
The Likud has on several occasions suspended Hazan from participating in committee meetings after he was found to be in breach of coalition discipline, or failing to toe the Likud party line.
The Knesset itself suspended Hazan from acting as deputy speaker (a position to which he was selected soon after the 2015 elections), and actually initiated a bill to facilitate the permanent removal of a deputy speaker (the “Hazan law”).
However, none of this seems to impress Hazan, who continues with his unruly behavior, and will continue to serve as an MK at least until the end of the current Knesset’s term.
In the meantime the Knesset speaker and his deputies, the committee chairpersons and rank-and-file MKs are advised to keep their cool in face of Hazan’s provocations.
If the media could simply disregard Hazan, that too would be useful, but he is too good a story for the media to ignore.
The Knesset will be rid of Hazan only if the Likud avoids placing him on its list for the 21st Knesset. Which leads one to the question: how did a maverick like Hazan get into the Likud list to the 20th Knesset in the first place? Hazan managed to be selected (by close to 6,000 votes) to the 30th slot, reserved for a representative of the younger generation, on the Likud list because Netanyahu wanted to make sure that another candidate for this slot, identified with former MK Moshe Feiglin, would be left out.
The fact that Hazan has a problematic personality was well known, as was the fact that he had previously run a casino in Bulgaria, but an alternative candidate was not found in time, and no one in the Likud imagined that it would receive 30 seats.
In addition, Hazan had the backing of his father, who is reported to have influence in the Likud institutions despite having lost his Knesset seat over 10 years ago.
The question now is whether the next time primaries for the Likud Knesset list are held, the Likud leadership will have the guts to prevent Hazan’s reelection. For the sake of the Knesset’s reputation and sanitation, one should hope that it will.