Siblings, lawyers, activists and a ‘Godfather’: New Knesset lawmakers have colorful pasts

The stories behind some of Israel’s 39 rookie MKs, who are being sworn in Tuesday afternoon

New MKs Dani Atar (L), Revital Swid and Ayelet Nachmias Verbin of the Zionist Union party seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset on March 29, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
New MKs Dani Atar (L), Revital Swid and Ayelet Nachmias Verbin of the Zionist Union party seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset on March 29, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Thirty-nine of the 120 MKs who will be sworn in Tuesday to the 20th Knesset are first-time lawmakers.

The turnover is one major reason the number of female lawmakers continued to rise in the last election, hitting a record high of 29, a feat all the more remarkable for the fact that some parties, such as Shas and United Torah Judaism, are ideologically opposed to women serving as lawmakers and therefore have none on their lists.

The party with the most new MKs, unsurprisingly, is also the one that grew most dramatically – Likud, with 11 new members. Zionist Union has nine new MKs, the same as Kulanu. There are six new MKs in the Joint (Arab) List, two new ones in Jewish Home and one each in Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu.

Some come from local government, others were journalists or activists. But a few of Israel’s new lawmakers have more colorful pasts.

1. Attorney Revital Sweid, soon to be sworn in as a Zionist Union MK, is a prominent criminal defense attorney and an outspoken religious feminist. But she is also the attorney who represented some of Israel’s most reprehensible criminals, from Roni Ron and Marie Pizam, the parents who made national headlines when they murdered their infant daughter Marie in cold blood, to prominent members of the notorious Abutbul crime family.

Freshman Likud MK Oren Hazan (screen capture: Ynet video)
Freshman Likud MK Oren Hazan (screen capture: Ynet video)

2. Oren Hazan, son of disgraced former Likud MK Yechiel Hazan, has proven himself an avid media hound in recent weeks, and a favorite target for media attention in the days since the election. The older Hazan was convicted of double-voting in the Knesset plenum in 2003 and was later caught allegedly breaking into a Knesset storeroom where evidence was stored. Oren Hazan, who squeaked into the Knesset in the last-place slot on the Likud list this month, did not shirk that history in the election, releasing a tongue-in-cheek primary campaign ad with his father that riffed off the “Godfather” movie. But Oren’s troubles are not limited to his father. He spent much of the last week fending off media criticism when it was revealed he had managed a casino hotel until two years ago in Bulgaria. Casinos are illegal in Israel – but not, as Hazan noted often in recent days, in Bulgaria.

3. Israel Air Force pilot and activist Yoav Kisch, who already served on a Knesset committee as a representative of the public, brings a remarkable family history to the Knesset. His grandfather Frederick Kisch was the highest-ranking Jew ever to serve in the British army, and a devoted Zionist activist besides. Having fought in both world wars, Kisch attained the rank of brigadier general by the time he was killed by a landmine in the North Africa campaign in 1943. The new MK Kisch was forced to sever some of those ties to his British roots since winning election to the Knesset earlier this month. Under Israeli law, he cannot serve in the Knesset while holding a foreign citizenship.

 Ksenia Svetlova (photo credit: Facebook)
Ksenia Svetlova (photo credit: Facebook)

4. Like Kisch, Ksenia Svetlova, no. 21 on the Zionist Union slate, was also forced to give up a foreign citizenship – in her case, Russian. That fact is especially significant for the now-ex journalist and Arab affairs expert who has reported from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and interviewed the late Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin and former PA president Yasser Arafat, among other not-quite-friends of Israel. Svetlova may be an award-winning reporter, but after her turn to Israeli politics, it’s unlikely she’ll find the Arab world as open a place as it was in her previous career.

Professor Manuel Trajtenberg speaks at a conference about the social situation in Israel, in Tel-Aviv University, January 18, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH 90)
Professor Manuel Trajtenberg speaks at a conference about the social situation in Israel, in Tel Aviv University, January 18, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH 90)

5. Economist Manuel Trajtenberg, a freshman Zionist Union MK, may be the only new lawmaker who can boast that he was a senior adviser to the other side of the aisle. The Argentina-born Trajtenberg headed up the “Trajtenberg Committee” from 2011 that advised the Netanyahu government on ways to reduce the cost of living, and found himself asked to join the Labor Knesset slate as candidate for finance minister in the recent elections.

6. Nava Boker, journalist and activist, seemingly took the opposite journey to Trajtenberg’s. She was for a long time a critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials – as well she might be. Boker’s husband Lior was a senior police officer, head of operations for the Northern District, when he was killed battling the Carmel forest fire in 2010. Nava then led a public campaign to improve Israel’s firefighting forces, and vociferously criticized the officials who she believed had allowed them to deteriorate. She entered politics this year when she unexpectedly joined the Likud primary race a week before the deadline, and entered the Knesset at the 25th spot on the Likud list. Needless to say, she had to field questions about her past criticism of her party leader during the race, but insisted her activism would be better served from within the Knesset.

7. Jacky Levy, freshman Likud lawmaker, is anything but a freshman to politics. He is the son of former foreign minister David Levy, which means he’s also the brother of current Yisrael Beytenu no. 2 Orly Levy-Abekasis. He served as mayor of Beit She’an for two terms and was wounded in a terror attack on Likud headquarters in the city in 2002. He seems committed to ensuring the family continues to produce politicians; he is the father of seven. He also felt the sting of scandal when he was named in an indictment this month over alleged breaches of environmental laws by the Beit She’an municipality when he was mayor.

Ex-Beit She'an mayor Jacky Levy (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Heichal Hakodesh)
Ex-Beit She’an mayor Jacky Levy (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Heichal Hakodesh)

A colorful resume may reflect important truths about the new lawmakers, but it could just as easily be a distraction. As Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told the freshman lawmakers on Monday in their official introductory tour of the Knesset, “One of the pleasant things you’ll discover is that people you’ve seen for years on television, after a conversation or two with them, you’ll see that things are a bit different.”

The reality may not fit the television persona or the assumptions one develops from an MK’s Wikipedia page. Orly Levy-Abekasis, for example, was appointed to the Yisrael Beytenu list in 2009 because she was a moderately well-known television personality and a model. But she soon became universally acclaimed as one of the Knesset’s most industrious and caring lawmakers.

And so as the new MKs’ colorful pasts seep into the public consciousness, it is worth remembering that the past may not reflect the future.

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