Lawmakers rapped for appearing on reality TV cooking competition

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Likud MK David Amsalem filmed an episode of ‘MasterChef VIP’ last year in runup to March 2021 national election

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton -- who was an MK during filming -- appears in an episode of 'MasterChef' that aired February 6, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton -- who was an MK during filming -- appears in an episode of 'MasterChef' that aired February 6, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik appeared to criticize two lawmakers for their appearance on the reality cooking competition “MasterChef,” but stopped short of public censure.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Likud MK David Amsalem both filmed appearances on a “VIP” season of the show, which includes just two episodes each featuring a different set of celebrities. The first episode, featuring Shasha-Biton, aired on Sunday evening, and the second featuring Amsalem is slated to air Monday night.

While Keshet 12, which is airing the show, has promoted the series as a “new season” of the cooking competition, in reality the celebrities all cooked just one dish and took part in one day of filming for the show.

In a letter to MKs on Sunday, Afik clarified that “one-time appearances” on TV shows that are considered “part of MKs’ routine work” are permitted, while “regular and extended” appearances on a TV show or other media outlet, including writing a weekly newspaper column, are prohibited.

Afik wrote that appearing on TV shows “that do not involve any contractual obligation” does not raise ethical concerns, but that, regardless, MKs should not “promote their participation on a show in a way that appears to be promotion and marketing of commercial content.”

According to the office of Shasha-Biton, the episode was filmed before she became education minister and after she ended her stint as housing minister, and while the Knesset was adjourned ahead of the March 2021 national election. She also claimed that her appearance was approved by the then-legal adviser to the Knesset Ethics Committee.

During filming, Amsalem was serving as cyber minister in the government. Amsalem did not publicly respond to the criticism, but did tweet a promotional image on Friday encouraging his followers to tune into the show.

The Knesset Ethics Committee has not met since December 2020, and efforts by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy to convene the committee last year were blocked by opposition lawmakers.

Afik’s letter is thought to be a response to a letter sent by Hatzlacha: The Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society, to Afik and to the Attorney General’s Office against Shasha-Biton and Amsalem appearing in “MasterChef.”

Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik at a Committee discussion in Jerusalem, December 28, 2020. (Screenshot: Knesset Channel)

In the letter — which called on authorities “to halt the broadcast of the show” — the organization noted that the lawmakers’ participation in the series has no connection to their work as public officials. It also lamented their appearance in a show that uses heavy product placement and hidden advertising, effectively turning the MKs into vehicles for advertising products, which is prohibited.

Shasha-Biton and Amsalem are far from the only public officials to grace the platform of reality TV in recent years, but rather are just the latest in what has become a cultural phenomenon.

Likud MK David Amsalem, who was a minister during filming, appears in an episode of ‘MasterChef VIP’ slated to air on February 7, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Most of the officials, however, waited until they were out of office to make their reality appearances, including former Labor MK Stav Shaffir and former Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto on “The Masked Singer”; former Likud MK Oren Hazan on “Big Brother”; former Likud MKs Nava Boker and Inbal Gavrieli on “Survivor VIP”; and former Labor MK Eitan Cabel on the VIP season of “My Kitchen Rules.”

Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari appeared on the soccer competition show “Goalstar,” which was filmed between her stints in the Knesset. Current Tourism Minister Yoel Razbozov – a former Olympian judoka – was slated to appear on “Ninja Israel” while an MK, but he tore a muscle while training and bowed out.

In 2012, then-Kadima MK Nino Abesadze requested permission to appear on “Dancing With the Stars,” but the request was denied by the Knesset legal adviser.

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