By a 32-11 vote, the Knesset passed the first reading of a bill preventing journalists from entering politics without a cooling-off period. The law states that a journalist who wishes to run for office must not have worked in journalism for between six months and a year beforehand.
The proposal was submitted by MKs Carmel Shama (Likud) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima). Its objective is to prevent a would-be politician from slanting the news to his own or his ideology's benefit.
MK Shelly Yechimovitch (Labor), now in her second term in the Knesset after a successful career as a popular Voice of Israel show host, is known to have slanted her reports in the year 2000 in favor of a withdrawal from Lebanon. Furthermore, in 2006, she conducted a very sympathetic interview with Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz just a short time before she entered politics as a Knesset candidate in the Labor Party.
The proposal must still pass a Knesset committee vote and two votes in the full Knesset before becoming law.
MKs Uri Orbach, Michael Eitan and Ahmed Tibi spoke out strongly against the law. Orbach, a former journalist, said from the Knesset podium with tongue in cheek, "If you don't let journalists run for Knesset, we'll be left with MKs like you…" In only a slightly more serious vein, he added, "Kadima is worried that Ya'ir Lapid [a journalist widely known to be considering a run for the Knesset – ed.], with his empty slogans about peace and prosperity with nothing to support them, will be a real competition for Kadima…"
Orbach said that Channel Two should be more concerned over Lapid's intentions than the Knesset, "because it should realize that its viewers want to see the central news anchor of the week as someone who is objective."
Two other former journalists who are now freshmen MKs are Daniel Ben-Simon of Labor and Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz.
MK Eitan, a former Chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, said, "The Knesset has made a bad mistake by approving this law. I hope that the majority will wake up for the next votes and will not lend a hand to the staining of our law books with an anti-democratic and personal law [apparently directed against one person, Ya'ir Lapid – ed.] such as this one."
"The proper way to oversee the public broadcasts is by overseeing it," said MK Eitan, "and not by preventing journalists from running for Knesset."
Eitan said that the proposed law "violates the public's right to vote for candidates as it sees fit… It smells of cowardice and unwillingness to fight for public opinion in a fair manner… Let the public choose on its own, and accept the results without distorting them by preventing certain candidates from running."
Today's vote was taken after MKs met with senior journalists and came to some understandings. Lapid, for his part, has said that he would not run for office without taking six months off from journalism beforehand.