You may have never heard of Frederick Fleet, whose picture appears on the right. Fleet was employed as a lookout on board the Titanic and was the first to spot the mythological iceberg the ship collided with. After he rang the alarm bell three times, Fleet contacted the bridge by phone and hastily shouted the famous words “Iceberg! Right ahead!” Fleet was one of the 712 lucky passengers and crew members who survived the demise of the Titanic. In his testimony to the board of inquiry investigating the disaster Fleet said that had his employers equipped him with binoculars, he would have spotted the iceberg earlier.
A person who was equipped by her employers with binoculars, or more precisely with a video camera and a voice recorder, is Efrat, a researcher of the Channel 2 programme ‘Uvda’ (Fact). What she spotted and alerted to is just the tip of the top of the iceberg of economic and political corruption that may well sink Israel’s democracy. Efrat joined a lobbying course of one of the leading companies in the field as a student. The dozens of training hours she filmed and recorded were finally translated into a short, 16 minute programme. One assumes that her instructors were careful with their words or else we would have seen a much longer programme, But even the little that was recorded and screened, the arrogant and sickening words of the course’s instructor and his stomach churning boasts about the vile methods used by his company, are enough to ring the alarm bells.
The picture emerging from the programme and from other media reports that followed it, is of an unbearable involvement of lobbyists acting on behalf of commercial companies in the orderly work procedures of the Israeli parliament. Lobbyists not only operate members of Knesset and the House’s research centre like puppets on a string, but are also present during meetings of the committees of the house and the votes held in them. Lobbying companies help people close to them get jobs as parliamentarian assistants to members of Knesset, and assist those who wish to leave the civil service and move to the private market in finding jobs with their own employers. One of the media channels brought a quote that sounded as if it was taken out of the film ‘The Godfather’: “A member of Knesset cannot say no to a lobbyist – or he will be a burnt out case.” The programme presented the lobbyists and their employers as those who gain financially from the intrigues depicted – members of Knesset were shown to only gain recognition and prestige from the bills they submit. Sorry, but I was not convinced – I would not be surprised if a robust future investigation would not find that large sums of money have also exchanged hand in the metaphorical restaurant, or should we say the bazar, of the Knesset.
In a statement published by the Knesset spokesperson on the house’s web site, the words of the speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin following the programme are quoted. Rivlin said: “We are not talking about speculation or gossip, but a reality that demands a deep, fundamental and prolonged treatment. Parliamentary processes have become have become the victim of the manipulations of fortune and government… today it is clearer than ever that drastic steps must be taken so that the Knesset will not be trodden over by the lobbying companies. The obstacle is positioned in front of our eyes, and we have to uproot it from amongst us. We are talking about a real threat to the orderly conduct and the decision making processes of the Knesset.” Rivlin, who for years has been coveting the post of Israel’s president, has been aware of these happenings for a long time and has already warned half-heartedly of this conflict of interest inside the house, but yesterday, realising the damage this shocking exposure could do to his personal image if he continues to drag his feet, he instructed the Knesset Officer to act immediately to limit the access of lobbying companies to the house.
This welcome step should now lead to a common investigation by Israel’s Police and the office of the state’s comptroller during which all the motions passed by the Knesset and its committees during the last ten years and that could have provided a financial or business advantage to interested commercial bodies will be thoroughly examined. At the end of this investigation everyone who broke the law en-route to these motions should be put on trial with no exceptions. Ministers and members of Knesset who act dishonestly or for payments or other illegal benefits should be prevented from ever participating in future elections.