The Knesset's new regulations, recently completed, lack a section forbidding MKs from using bluntly offensive language and insults during Knesset proceedings. However, ethics principles governing the behavior of MKs specifically say that, "Knesset members must be respectful to the Knesset and to other members, devoted to fulfilling their roles and acting in a manner that fosters public confidence in the Knesset."
It appears that MKs Miri Regev, Anastassia Michaeli, Uri Ariel and Ahmed Tibi, who have all recently spoken out in a vitriolic and rude manner in the Knesset, remain unaware of these principles. Unfortunately, even after years of serving in the Knesset, I can't say for certain whether these politicians cleverly make crude remarks to attract public attention and make headlines, or, alternatively, simply lack the ability to control their tongues. The reality is that they are often criticized for their "aphorisms," which leads them to either issue an apology or claim that their words were taken out of context.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who said a few weeks ago during a demonstration against African migrants that, "The Sudanese are a cancer in our body," claimed afterwards that her intention behind using the word "cancer" was simply to express a negative phenomenon growing from within Israel. MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beytenu) verbally attacked MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly), threw a glass of water at MK Raleb Majadale (Labor) and publicly stated last week that homosexuals "commit suicide at age 40." MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) also hasn't been able to control himself. He reacted to Michaeli's actions with a poem he proceeded to recite in Knesset. The poem, which could be interpreted as containing sexual innuendos and other unethical comments, was dubbed by the media as the "Anastasia and the Plumbing" limerick (the Hebrew word for plumbing, “installatzia,” rhymes with Anastasia).
This week, MK Uri Ariel (National Union party) joined this group of very undistinguished Knesset members when he used abusive language against the gay and lesbian community. In an interview on the Knesset channel, Ariel said, "the IDF should not recruit homosexuals who wave their identity like a flag." At first, I thought that he had had an accidental slip of the tongue, but the things he said late in the interview were no less severe. "The integration of those who wave the [gay pride] flag in the army disrupts the IDF's ability to fight, regardless of their suitability or courage." When an MK is serving as the chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, one of the most senior positions in the Knesset, such statements are very worrisome.
The Knesset Ethics Committee often disregards the way MKs express themselves. The committee says that, "it must act with restraint in exercising its authority when it comes to statements, which are the primary tools MKs have at their disposal, in light of the broad freedom of expression granted to Knesset members."
But even when the Ethics Committee does deal with instances of especially insulting expressions, it issues ridiculous punishments. For example, when Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) told MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) that she is, "more lowly than a beast," the Ethics Committee censured him, and that was all. I have no doubt whatsoever that were they to expel him from Knesset discussions for a few weeks, it would have been a much more effective punishment.
These unbridled expressions by MKs are damaging to the status of the Knesset. In view of such vitriol, one can hardly be comforted by the fact that most Knesset members do, in fact, behave in an appropriate and dignified manner.
The fact that MKs allow themselves to use rude street language and lack the intelligence to understand that they must set an example for others as elected public officials, should concern anyone who cares about the dignity and prestige of Israel's parliament under the leadership of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.