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Why are some politicians afraid of this one Knesset member?

Likud politicians fear the Hazan family and its influence within the party's Central Committee.
A picture dated on March 18, 2015 shows Israel's deputy parliament speaker, lawmaker Oren Hazan (2nd R) standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) as they wait for exit polls in Israel's parliamentary elections in Tel Aviv. Hazan, has said he will sue privately owned Channel 2 over a report alleging his involvement in pimping and drugs. Channel 2 ran an investigative report on June 8, 2015 alleging that Hazan, who used to run a casino in Bulgaria, had arranged to provide casino-goers wit

“There’s a reason they’re picking on me. I am the symbol of the Likud,” Knesset member Oren Hazan said on a Dec. 13 Army Radio morning show. His mood was exuberant. He was full of self-confidence as he noted that the reason the media is picking on him and covers him so extensively is because “The prime minister and I are members of the same party. We’re not only colleagues, but friends, too.”

In Hazan’s imaginary parallel universe, “picking on” is just the right term to describe the coverage of all the scandals — the suspicions that he committed a felony, the disdain that he shows for the Knesset itself and his fellow Knesset members, and in fact the entire gamut of his bullying behaviors. On Dec. 3, the State Comptroller’s report determined that Hazan submitted a false affidavit, in which he claimed that he did not spend any of his own money on the Likud primary elections, when he actually spent tens of thousands of shekels of his own money. Under Israeli law, that is a felony with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. It is quite possible that a criminal investigation will be launched against him.

Just a few days earlier, on Nov. 24, Hazan mocked Knesset member Karin Elharar, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is a wheelchair user. As a result, he was suspended from participating in any of the Knesset’s committees for one month. In an unrelated incident, the State Attorney General is expected to decide soon whether Hazan should be indicted, after a police recommendation that he be prosecuted for assaulting a public servant. Then there is the devastating investigative report by Channel 2, which looked into his earlier career as he managed a casino in Bulgaria. According to testimonies in that report, Hazan allegedly used hard drugs, provided drugs to his clients and even secured prostitutes for them. Hazan denied the accusations attributed to him in the report and sued Channel 2 for libel. Nevertheless, Channel 2 insists on standing by its report.

None of this dirty laundry prevents Hazan from living the good life, while branding himself as a “symbol of the Likud.” His many self-important appearances in the media and his domination of the social networks help him to build up his image as a rising star in the reinvigorated Youth Wing of the Likud. For example, on Dec. 10, he hosted a huge crowd at a Hanukkah party at an event hall. The guest list included supporters and Likud activists. Three Likud Knesset members were in attendance: former Director of the Shin Bet Avi Dichter, Yaron Mazuz and Miki Zohar. In his speech, Hazan claimed that he is being persecuted because of the incident with Elharar, when in fact, she cursed him out, so it is really her fault.

The way Hazan sees it, Elharar should be apologizing to him. More generally, he claims that the whole incident is part of an ideological battle between the left and the right; he is being persecuted because he became a symbol of the Likud. In the world according to Hazan, he is the victim. As he explained in his interview with Army Radio, "I'm receiving responses like 'die,' 'shoot yourself in the head' and other pearls of wisdom," he said. "Just because I'm a Likud man doesn't mean my blood can be spilled. If someone does take it seriously and shoots me, then maybe you'll wake up, but I hope it won't be too late." He complained, “Where is Karin Elharar? The nerve of that woman! She made me a target in the Knesset plenum and has yet to get up and apologize to me for hoping that I die!”

Meanwhile, Hazan is doing whatever he wants within the Likud’s narrow coalition. After he was informed that the Knesset’s Ethics Committee suspended him from Knesset debates, he decided to absent himself from votes in the plenum, too. (The Ethics Committee is not authorized to suspend a Knesset member from voting.) This caused considerable embarrassment to Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Hazan first burst onto the public stage after the March 17 election. He was elected to the Knesset without any prior experience in public service, and most senior members of the Likud didn’t even know him. They did, however, know his mother Aviva and his father, former Knesset member Yehiel Hazan. Residents of the settlement town of Ariel, they are prominent leaders of the Likud’s grass-roots campaign. The senior Hazan carved a place for himself in the public’s memory after he was entangled in the Knesset’s “double voting incident” in 2003. The scandal brought an abrupt end to his brief and embarrassing political career.

Nevertheless, the Hazan family remained active in the Likud. This is especially true of Aviva, who planned on running for a place on the party’s list in the last election. Sources close to her claim that right before the primaries, the family decided that given the Likud’s poor showing in the polls, she should postpone her run until the next election cycle, since this would increase her chances of being elected. Meanwhile, the family toyed with the idea of running the younger Hazan in the slot reserved for young Likud members. This placed him as No. 30 on the list, a position that few people really believed had a chance of getting elected to the Knesset. However, he won, and the rest is history. The Likud walked away from the election with the astonishing result of 30 seats, and overnight, Hazan, 34, became a familiar figure.

Very soon it became clear that Hazan was the perfect source of material for satirists and caricaturists. The fact that he is a member of a coalition that rests on a single vote majority — with 61 members out of 120 Knesset seats — granted him disproportional power and made the situation even more ridiculous. Hazan demanded and received the position of deputy Knesset speaker and a seat on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He was also the ideal match for the role of the hip young right-winger, who doesn’t care what anybody thinks. The fact that he has a sharp tongue and a sense of humor, including self-deprecating humor, clinched his position as a political celebrity. Today, Hazan is one of the best-known members of the Likud Party in the entire country. He is the highlight of every event he attends, drawing long lines of children who want to take a selfie with him.

Maybe that’s why, despite all the scandals, Hazan currently seems to be caught up in an outbreak of megalomania. He is, however, mistaken in thinking that he was elected to the Knesset because of his personal achievements or his political strength. The fact is that he owes it all to a successful campaign by the chairman of the Likud, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to his parents’ personal connections within the party.

Hazan now seems like a lost cause. No one expects anymore that he atones for his mistakes or give up his seat. But if anyone should be called to account for Hazan’s misdeeds, it is the top tier of Likud officials. Yet most of them insist on remaining mum on the matter. Apart from two senior Likud officials, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, no one has spoken out against Hazan directly. They have yet to condemn suspicions of his involvement in criminal acts, his behaviors uncovered by investigative journalists and his comments about Elharar.

Those same Likud officials do express their disgust, but only behind closed doors. In fact, they admit that they are at a total loss of what to do about the situation. In public, however, they are afraid to come out against the powerful Hazan family and risk paying the price for that in the next primaries. Hence, we are witness to a bevy of embarrassing events, such as Knesset member Dichter’s attendance at Hazan’s Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. The former head of the Shin Bet became — unwillingly perhaps — a kind of air freshener for one of the most offensive events in the Knesset’s history. While there have been Knesset members whose criminal activities surpassed Hazan’s and who were more corrupt than him, never before has such a negative figure become the symbol of the ruling party.

Netanyahu fought frequently with Temple Mount activist former Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, and tried on more than one occasion to have him expelled from the Likud Party. But at least Feiglin was as ideologue. In contrast, Hazan represents a vapid, hollow culture, making him the archetype of the "ugly Israeli." The members of the Likud, headed by the prime minister, are enabling the phenomenon, fearing that their coalition will collapse if they do anything about Hazan. Obviously, they are mistaken. Hazan would never dare topple the Likud government, since that would bring about the political demise of him and his family.

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