Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy on Wednesday evening said he was unilaterally setting up the parliament’s Ethics Committee by ordering two opposition lawmakers to sit on the panel, even though many opposition parties are engaged in an ongoing boycott of parliamentary forums over what they say is a balance of power in them that is unfair to the opposition.
Levy said in a statement he was compelled to order lawmakers to staff the committee in order overcome the boycott and deal with “an unprecedented murky [political] atmosphere that makes it impossible to wait any longer — and requires immediate action.”
He pointed to a “blatant escalation” in the tone of discourse among lawmakers as his motivation for the move.
The committee is composed of two coalition lawmakers and two from the opposition. It handles all matters relating to the ethical behavior of MKs and complaints against them.
Levy appointed coalition MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano of Yesh Atid to chair the committee. New Hope MK Zvi Hauser, also of the coalition, was selected, along with opposition lawmakers Gila Gamliel (Likud) and Ya’akov Margi (Shas).
Opposition MK Osama Saadi of the Joint List and Sharon Roffe Ofir of the coalition party Yisrael Beytenu party were appointed as alternate committee members.
While the Likud party recently reiterated its intention to continue boycotting Knesset committees to protest what the opposition claims is an underrepresentation of its lawmakers, Shas has nominated some of its MKs to certain panels.
If Gamliel and Margi don’t attend meetings, their places will be taken by the backup members, but if that happens several times, the committee can issue sanctions against the absent MKs. However, the two lawmakers can also resign from the committee. Levy would then have the power to issue orders for other MKs to join the committee.
Levy said that following the passage of the national budget earlier this month, a move that solidified the governing coalition and averted the threat of early elections, he asked opposition leaders in writing and in meetings to name party members to serve on the Ethics Committee.
“To my regret, I was met with a stubborn and incomprehensible refusal that left me with no other choice,” he said in the statement.
At least two Likud lawmakers have recently expressed their opposition to establishing the Ethics Committee, claiming it would focus on hounding party members, according to a recording aired by the Kan public broadcaster earlier this month.
“Ultimately, they’ll only bring us to the Ethics [Committee]. You understand? Why are we the only ones who are criminals in the Knesset?” MK Orly Levy-Abekasis could be heard saying in a Likud faction meeting.
MK Keti Shitrit responded that she “unequivocally” agreed with Levy-Abekasis.
“I sat on the Ethics Committee. I want to tell you, they only bring complaints against us,” Shitrit said.
“They’ll only judge us. Let there be no Ethics Committee,” Levy-Abekasis replied.
The comments come after Levy-Abekasis faced scrutiny last week for berating a female usher after being ejected from a Knesset Finance Committee meeting.
There has been an ongoing dispute about the composition of Knesset committees that initially saw all opposition parties participating in a boycott due to what they alleged was their disproportionately low representation.
Last month, some parties dropped the boycott and began sending lawmakers to staff key panels, after the High Court of Justice refused to intervene in the parliamentary dispute and force the coalition to change the makeup of the committees. The court ruled that the matter did not justify judicial intervention.