Fourteen MKs jumped at the chance of a trip to Australia to save the kangaroos, paid for by a fictitious organization during the busiest time of the legislative year.
To test how keen parliamentarians are to travel abroad, Channel 2 sent invitations to all 120 Knesset lawmakers for a week-long trip to Australia to attend a conference to save endangered marsupials scheduled for the last week of March, the final days of the Knesset’s winter session. The invitation indicated that all conference-related expenses “would be taken care of.”
Surprisingly, not only did many MKs rush to sign up, but the Knesset’s ethics committee approved the trip, despite the fact that the organization that invited them does not exist nor does it even have a website.
The invitation, from Save Australian Marsupials (SAM), instructed MKs to call the local Israel representative, Rotem Chomsky, who is in fact a Channel 2 investigative journalist to explain why they should be selected to be part of the delegation.
Channel 2 had intended to build a website for the organization, to at least give some semblance of legitimacy to the fake group, but due to technical issues it was never built. That didn’t stop 14 MKs from five parties from calling to sign up.
MKs Avraham Neguise, David Amsalem, Oren Hazan and Nurit Koren of Likud, Yoel Hasson, Yossi Yonah, Zouheir Bahloul, Ksenia Svetlova and Yael Cohen-Paran of the Zionist Union, Basel Ghattas, Jamal Zahalka and Abdullah Abu Maaruf of the Joint (Arab) list, Issawi Frej of Meretz and Hamad Amar of Yisrael Beytenu all expressed interest. Their explanations of why they should be selected ranged from a concern for the environment to owning a pet dog.
Chomsky enlisted MK Mickey Rosenthal to run the invite by the Knesset Ethics Committee to see whether it would approve the trip. The committee “is supposed to look into the organizations inviting MKs to conferences,” Rosenthal told Chomsky.
Even though a quick check on Google would have shown that there was no such organization, within three weeks the committee gave approval to attend.
On the flip side, several MKs turned down the invite. Zionist Union’s Itzik Shmuli, for example, said that he never takes overseas trips when he has to be present in the Knesset. And Yael German of Yesh Atid said that she never allows others to pay for her trips.
After the sting was exposed, the MKs offered explanations and excuses for their actions. Some claimed that the preliminary acceptance was done without their knowledge, while others said they were only going as a public service.