The Knesset celebrated its 63rd birthday Wednesday with an open house during which thousands of Israelis were expected to visit the building and meet with parliamentarians. But a scathing TV report on the alarming influence lobbyists exert on the lawmaking process in Israel, which was broadcast the night before the parliament’s birthday, might spoil the festive mood.
Tuesday’s episode of “Uvdah” (Hebrew link), a Channel 2 investigative program, exposed how easily lobbyists can effect the laws passed in the Knesset. An undercover reporter filmed a course for wannabe lobbyists during which the instructor, one of the country’s top lobbyists, patted himself on the back over how he and his colleagues got a number of laws passed on behalf of his clients.
For example, two years ago the Knesset passed a law requiring drivers to keep a reflective vest in their vehicles at all times. According to the senior lobbyist filmed in the report, this law was passed after his company approached MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) and suggested that such vests could save countless lives. Needless to say, the company producing these vests has profited nicely since the ratification of this law – and paid a handsome sum to those who initiated the lucrative piece of legislation.
In an interview with Ilana Dayan of “Uvda,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin appeared stupefied (Hebrew link) by the show’s revelations. “Until now I was worried. Now I’m shocked. What I saw is unbelievable,” he said, pledging to stem the influence lobbyists can exert on MKs. “The obstacle is within us, and we need to uproot it,” he said. Indeed, Rivlin – ostensibly motivated by what the TV producers had shown him – last month started to work on this issue.
More than 200 lobbyists currently work the halls of the Knesset working to sway its 120 lawmakers, according to “Uvdah.”
Despite the embarrassing report, the Knesset on Wednesday went ahead with its birthday festivities, during which lawmakers were scheduled to read stories to children and debate high school students. Some 50 MKs were expected to participate in various other activities, including Rivlin, who was to give students a civics class. The day began with a tree planting ceremony in a Jerusalem park and is to end with a festive plenum session. The subject: “The Knesset as a house of the people — generation to generation.”
“The Knesset is the house of the people, and this will literally be true, when a crowd of thousands comes to the Knesset,” Rivlin said according to a statement published last week. Whether the Knesset is really interested in serving the public or rather powerful companies and their army of lobbyists is a question he is likely to have to answer to more than visitor.