Tame the tongue
As Israel’s parliament, the Knesset is supposed to be a model for how society is meant to conduct itself. It is supposed to attract the best-of-the-best, the most talented, the brightest, the most diligent. The people elected to sit in the Knesset are entrusted with the welfare of the state, fixing its problems and legislating laws that are supposed to ensure it continues to advance despite Israel’s economic and security challenges.
How is it then, that in 2018, a member of the Knesset can stand up and deride another member of Knesset who is of the opposite sex, and cast aspersions because of her femininity? How is it that another MK can call one of his disabled colleagues “half a man”? What role models can these members of Knesset serve our children, who should be looking up to the parliament as an institution of excellence and success?
This week we witnessed two public displays of unacceptable behavior. On Monday, Elazar Stern, No. 10 on the Yesh Atid list, called out Culture Minister Miri Regev, No. 5 on the Likud list, claiming in the plenum that he “knows how she advanced in the army” – intimating clearly that Regev traded sexual favors for advancement in her military career. Stern denied that he was referring to sexual favors but rather to the way Regev covered up the failures of her bosses and said whatever needed to be said as the IDF spokesperson to advance her personal career.
Regev responded to Stern’s remarks, tweeting: “His words are contemptuous and disgusting. He joined the men who slander women, strip and disparage them.” She ended with a new hashtag – #YouToo – for Stern having now “joined the ranks of men who slander women.” Regev also called on Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid to “suspend Stern immediately,” saying “there is no room” for someone who makes “sexist suggestions.”
Lapid – the self-styled Mr. Clean who touts the high number of female representatives on his party’s list – defended Stern, saying: “I believe that anyone who attributed wrong intentions to a respected former IDF major general who has positively influenced generations of fighters does not know Stern. I believe Stern and his intentions. Those who attribute such intentions to a high-ranking champion, the commander of Bahad 1 who raised generations of fighters, simply does not know Stern. The low discourse that Miri Regev leads to is not at all on Stern’s scale of values.”
On Wednesday – a day after hiding behind a statement saying he didn’t mean what people thought he meant – Stern issued an apology. Sort of. “I am aware of what goes on in social networks,” he said in a statement, “and there are women who have been hurt by what I said. I apologize to these women, but Miri Regev is not one of them.”
Even if Stern did not mean what everyone thought he meant, he should have been more aware of what his remarks would sound like. An all-inclusive apology would have been better. And civil.
Then there is MK Oren Hazan, who has practically built an industry out of acting as a boorish, coarse, rude person.
To his long list of degradations, insults, and embarrassments comes an incident this week in which Hazan said to disabled MK Ilan Gilon: “You are half a man” – after Gilon called Hazan “the Golem of Prague.”
Does it get more unrefined?
Credit to those many MKs from the Left and Right who condemned Stern and Hazan’s statements this week, who stood up to this discourse seeking to change it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter that “recent statements heard in the Knesset are unfit and have no place in Israeli discourse. I am in favor of arguments and from time to time even comments that sting – as long as they are handled respectfully and professionally and not personally,” he said. “I am against harmful and chauvinist discourse that does not bring respect to the Knesset or to our public servants.”
So are we all. As a democracy, Israel has no problem embracing disagreements and debates as long as they remain civil and focused on the betterment of society and the state.
What is happening in the Knesset is an embarrassment. Israel deserves better.