- I gave a Tedx Talk about undressing Politicians. The transcription bellow
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Ted transcription – with some changes. This was the draft
When I began covering the parliament as a journalist I thought to myself – wow! This is awesome. This is the place where key decisions are made. I attended discussions regarding minimum wage, consumer laws, taxes, biometric database – and that was just my first day.
I quickly realized how relevant the parliament is to my everyday life. But the public couldn’t see it. Why, you ask? because when I witnessed how parliament members destroy reforms that could cut our monthly rent or the commissions we pay to the bank by, the evening news only showed the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – if a scandal like this happened.
One morning, I understood that it could be different. Bored, I was strolling in the corridors looking for some action. I randomly picked a session and went inside. I sat in the back, nearly alone. The committee was in a rush to change some small, unnoticed amendment. I was curious. After some digging, I discovered that the complex legal terms, actually meant something very simple: one lucky person was to receive an addition of a million dollars to his pension! I asked the minister promoting this change whether he knew this individual. The minister said he didn’t know him.
With a bit more "snooping around" I found out that the lucky person was a member of the minister’s party, and his friend.
I remember thinking – hell, every penny I ever paid and will pay in taxes was going to be dumped into this guy's bank account, just because he was friends with the right person.
How dare they? well – it’s simple – in Israel we don’t know who our Representatives really are- who they meet, which information they are being fed, and nothing about their decision making process. It’s all in the dark. zero political transparency. The media – concentrating mainly on scandals -perpetuates this darkness.
Regarding that pension amendment – I decided not to let go. I wrote and asked questions. And when the public noticed – it was game over. The amendment was canceled and the money stayed in the Public Treasury. Our Treasury.
This time we won, but imagine how many times we don’t – either because no sources would leak the information, or because there isn't anyone bored enough to wander into a committee room.
I wanted to change it. I wanted to get people involved, because there aren't enough reporters, and the Knesset is anything but boring – it’s an aquarium. Aquarium packed with sharks, swordfish and eels, and they all swim in opposite directions – and collide and create colorful explosions.
But those explosions are underneath the surface. And when they are public, transparent things change.
I had encouragements: when I uncovered the pistachio ice cream our Prime Minister managed to buy with public money. The public was outraged and the PM canceled that expense. When we revealed the huge budget allocated to the prime minister’s private house – it was reduced. we now save millions. That’s the power of transparency.
But we are limited and have to rely, again, on sources and colorful topics.
I look jealously at the US where every citizen can see online who visits the President at the White House or the corresponding Senators. The UK where the prime minister MUST answer questions each Wednesday at noon. Or Germany with it’s literally transparent parliament. crystal clear.
So how do you wake the Israeli people up and make them care?
I became a journalist because I wanted to write books. All those explosions – that’s everything I needed for a novel.
Now, My mom is a huge Agatha Christie fan, so I wrote a suspense novel that takes place in our parliament – I wanted to refresh the way people look at the Knesset, and that people like mom would be interested.
So my book starts with a body being found in a Knesset storeroom. And while the readers try to found out "who committed the murder, where and with what", they learn how the "committee of legislation" work in the dark; how lack of transparency enabled politicians to become corrupt; and what sex in the Knesset really looks like, because, after all, sex sells, right?
The book was published and well received, but people didn’t storm the Knesset gates as I imagined they would. They didn’t demand change.
And then something happened. While researching financial motives for one of the suspects in my book, I discovered that our politicians can secretly own stocks. Think about it: The people who shape our economy are allowed to vote with one hand, and buy or sell a stock that will be affected by that vote -with the other.
And we have no way of knowing it! This was too much, especially when leaked information showed for instance that many own gas companies stocks – the same companies that receive exceptional legal terms.
I wrote about it repeatedly, and implored Knesset members to at least make their stocks public, like in the US. By the way, whoever follows US Senators stocks- usually earn more than average.
So, this isn't a matter of Left and Right. This is a bill everyone can get behind, right? No. The coalition leaders threw their weight in and squashed the proposal.
On that day, I realized books weren't enough. Investigative stories weren't enough. I’m not enough! The public must demand transparency laws – only then being corrupt will become challenging. think about it: When the table is transparent, you can't pass envelopes underneath it.
And so, one year ago I founded an independent project called "One Hundred Days of Transparency". I wanted to hire private investigators to follow elected officials who oppose transparency. to find out legally the things they try to hide, or at least make them sweat while hiding it.
I wanted to finance the project through crowd-funding. But I thought the idea is too extreme to win support. I donated 2% myself of the fear of being humiliated. But then the public showed up. Our crowd-funding effort reached nearly 200%. Nearly 2,000 people donated. Instead of shaking their heads when they read another scandal in the papers they can become involved. many have. Now, when I write about injustice, I have an army with me.
We at 100 Days of Transparency are genuinely using new methods of journalism: calling the public to tell us if their landlords are Parliament members in order to publicize their flats. We reveal their assets, expose their expenses. Use volunteers to take pictures of meetings. Who wouldn't like to know how many apartments the Minister of the Treasury- the one in charge of housing cost – has? That a lobbist drinks coffee with a politician the on a working day? or that the Minister of Health is cutting lines in hospitals?
The support opened the door to other crazy initiatives, for instance offering a financial reward for information about a certain corruption. That drove the system insane.
Elected officials say we're too nosey. That we are gossiping. But the way we see it, nothing about the Knesset is gossip. This is not Bar Refaeli’s wedding. This is where our reality is being crafted. So we gather all the information in a big, public data base and publish it online.
But we want change, not headlines. So we recently created another project called "Lobby 99". For the first time ever, we are employing a lobbyist to represent the public; guided by the 1,000 who made donations. Here are the results of the poll about what she'll be promoting in the coming session – Transparency won.
I tell you this: Transparency laws are continuously shot down. Politicians are fighting us, and they fight dirty. For instance, they just revoked my permanent entry permit to the Israeli parliament. But with every blow we receive we also increase our supporter base, and we will not stop until they will legislate transparency laws that will make us useless.
And thanks to technology, it’s possible. We can come together, all around the world and through transparency make sure for the first time in history that the politicians remember that they work FOR us, and not the other way around!