On Monday night, Israel’s Channel 2 ran an investigative report accusing Likud MK Oren Hazan of living a debauched, criminal life prior to his entry into politics. In March’s elections, Hazan, 33, just about made it into the Knesset by being placed number 30 on the Likud list of candidates when the party won 30 seats. He currently serves as the Knesset’s deputy speaker, and recently even proposed a bill mandating Arabic education in Israeli schools, which garnered wide support. Ironically, Hazan also oversees the legislative Committee on Drug Abuse, reports Haaretz.
But a couple of years ago, Hazan worked as the manager of a Bulgarian casino, where, the Channel 2 report alleged, he used hard drugs while on the job, and provided escort services for the gamblers he was friendly with. The Channel 2 report included an interview with a woman named Sonya, the manager of a strip club called Red Roses that neighbored Hazan’s casino, who described him as “Oren the Big Boss.” The Times of Israel reports her as saying:
“His driver would come here, talk to me, I would tell him the price and he would take [the women]. First he would pay, and then they would leave together.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Sonya “giggled” when she was told Hazan was now in politics. According to the Post, the Channel 2 story “featured a recording of a phone call with a man saying he was Hazan’s driver, who said he would drive to Red Roses and ask for “good-looking girls with big tits” to bring back to the casino.”
Channel 2 also interviewed “an Israeli tourist who claims to know Hazan,” writes Haaretz, who described an encounter in which he claims to have taken drugs with the newly elected MK:
“Two friends went and bought the meth… we then went to the hotel and in the hotel we smoked some weed and then crystal meth. I specifically remember that [Hazan] did it’ as well,” he said.
Hazan has denied the allegations. According to Haaretz, Hazan released a statement that reads: “Sorry to disappoint you, but your sexual fantasies and the perverted imagination of those feeding you have nothing to do with reality or the truth.”
Next he claimed he was compiling a libel lawsuit against Channel 2 and their reporter, Amit Segal: “Let them come to court and prove these lies presented before a judge. I unequivocally say: There were no drugs, there was no pimping.”
The scandal has provoked strong reactions from other Israeli politicians. MK Michal Rozin of the opposing Meretz party demanded that Hazan be ejected from the Knesset. According to Haaretz, on Monday Rozin wrote that “Hazan’s face is that of the ugly Israeli, and it’s inappropriate that it should also be the face of the Israeli legislature.”
Of the Channel 2 report, Likud ministers and MKs have apparently declined to comment.
Hazan has since been suspended from his role as deputy Knesset Speaker. The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein “instructed the Knesset Secretariat not to assign Hazan any shifts as deputy speaker until further notice,” as “a Knesset speaker does not have the authority to fire a deputy from the position officially, though 61 MKs can vote to do so.” Hazan’s suspension occured after
[Edelstein] discussed the situation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then met with Hazan, telling the MK that if he does not suspend himself from the deputy Knesset speaker position, Edelstein would take action. The speaker also advised Hazan to “take five polygraph tests” to prove his innocence.
Soon afterward, Hazan wrote on Twitter that he would leave the Knesset early on Tuesday to see his lawyers – making it sound like it would be a onetime absence, and not like he would resign or take a break as deputy Knesset speaker.
But Hazan is not going down without a fight:
Hours later, Hazan called Edelstein’s personal phone number and had his assistant threaten that the MK would dig up scandalous stories about the speaker and release them to the press.
In a post on his Facebook page, Edelstein, wrote: “I informed MK Oren Hazan this morning that for the time being I won’t be able to let him run the plenum sessions as deputy speaker of the Knesset, in light of the report on him on Channel 2.”
“I am full of hope that he will clear himself of all suspicions and I will be happy to apologise to him. But in the current public atmosphere, ethically–even if not criminally–there is no way he can run the plenum.”
This isn’t the first time Hazan has put his party in hot water. In February, before Hazan became a member of the Knesset, he allegedly provided a false testimony to Breaking the Silence, a non-profit that documents IDF human rights abuses in the Israeli-occupied territories, The Times of Israel reports.
Hazan is the son of shamed Likud politician Yehiel Hazan who served a prison term for trying to double vote—then attempting to cover up the evidence—in the Knesset in 2003. The Times of Israel reports that when the younger Hazan was elected, his “colorful past” encouraged media scrutiny, not just because of his name, but because casinos are outlawed in Israel (though not in Bulgaria).
Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.