Likud MK Oren Hazan was facing calls by some coalition lawmakers to resign Tuesday after a judge said he took hard drugs while serving as a casino manager in Bulgaria, and several female opposition MKs demanded an investigation into claims he also provided prostitutes to customers.
Judge Azaria Alcalay ruled Tuesday that a June 2015 Channel 2 investigative report that said Hazan had hired prostitutes for his friends and used hard drugs while managing a Burgas casino in 2013 amounted to “responsible, serious journalism and reflected the reality as it was.”
Hazan had sought NIS 1 million (some $260,000) in damages from Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal, claiming the allegations were false and constituted libel.
Three female lawmakers from the opposition Meretz party on Tuesday demanded of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he lift Hazan’s parliamentary immunity so that he can be investigated on suspicion of “pimping.”
In their letter to Mandelblit, MKs Zehava Galon, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg noted that “pimping and soliciting prostitution are illegal in Israel as well as in Bulgaria.”
“We cannot stand by when an elected official is suspected of offenses that carry not only criminal penalties but also legal and moral turpitude and continues to retain his public office,” they wrote, adding that there is “great” public importance to an investigation.
In his ruling, Alcalay said evidence brought before the court by two witnesses proved that Hazan had taken crystal meth in 2013. He said that it could not be proved that Hazan provided prostitutes to friends or customers of the casino, but maintained he was convinced Segal had sufficient evidence to be protected under freedom of the press.
Segal said after the ruling Tuesday that the Likud party must consider whether Hazan should be able to continue to serve as a Knesset member.
“The court ruled that MK Oren Hazan used hard drugs. The Likud faction needs to decide what to do with this decision. I don’t know of another court ruling against an MK like this,” Segal told Army Radio.
Hazan was not spared criticism from coalition lawmakers and members of the governing Likud party.
MK Yehuda Glick said that his fellow Likud MK should “suspend himself” if he committed the acts of which he was accused.
Glick told Channel 2 news that it was “a difficult day for Likud, a difficult day for the Knesset, and a difficult day for me personally,” describing Hazan as a personal friend. Still, Glick continued, the actions attributed to Hazan were “completely inappropriate for a public official.”
The Likud Youth Movement also said that Hazan should resign or be fired.
“There is no room for a person like Hazan in the Likud faction and in Israel’s Knesset, and there’s no choice but to fire him,” the group said in a statement.
Hazan, who was elected to the Knesset on the ruling party’s youth ticket, should show “respect” to the Knesset and the Likud party and apologize for his actions, the statement added.
Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari also called for Hazan to resign, writing on Facebook that “we must preserve the honor of the Knesset.”
In his own response, Hazan underlined part of the ruling that said Channel 2 was wrong to report he has sold hard drugs, a detail that only appeared on the outlet’s Mako website and not in the initial report, and must pay him NIS 40,000 in damages.
“Despite a campaign of slander, the Israeli court has ordered a reporter to pay damages of NIS 40,000 and ruled that there was no dealing in drugs or women. In [Channel 2 and Segal’s] place, I would be embarrassed, not celebrating,” Hazan said in a statement.