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Think About It: 50 new MKs, 19 from Yesh Atid
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
01/27/2013
Assuming that the situation in Israel is at least approaching the latter case, it will be interesting to see how Yesh Atid in general and Yair Lapid in particular fare over the next four years.
 
In every newly elected Knesset there are 30- 40 totally new MKs. This time the number is close to 50 – in other words around 40 percent of the Knesset. This is a very high figure, though nowhere near what happened in the 1992 elections in Italy, when due to serious political scandals, the disbandment of the Communist Party and a change in the electoral system the whole Italian party make-up changed, and following the elections a large majority of the members in both Houses (if I remember correctly the figure was around 90%) were totally new.

Though some might say that the 19th Knesset is the outcome of a scandalous situation that developed during the course of the 18th, in which both the political and economic Right went a little too far in the eyes of close to half the Israeli voters, there has been no change in the electoral system, there were no earthshaking political scandals, and though at least one political party turned from the largest parliamentary group in the 18th Knesset to the smallest in the 19th (Kadima), this was due to political factors, not legal ones.

The vast number of new MKs is certainly going to pose a serious challenge for the Knesset administration, which customarily offers new MKs a brief crash course on how the Knesset works, MKs’ rights and duties, and the services made available to them by the Knesset. Since the usual situation is that new MKs join more experienced ones in their respective parliamentary groups, the new MKs can also count on the assistance of their more experienced colleagues, and the staff of their respective parliamentary groups.

But what happens when all the members of a parliamentary group are new, as is the parliamentary group itself? In the past there were in the Knesset cases of new parliamentary groups, all of whose members were new, but it was always small groups with a number of MKs that at most could be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

THE SITUATION with regard to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid is different. Yesh Atid, which with its 19 seats will be the second largest parliamentary group in the 19th Knesset, and apparently the second most important component of the new coalition, is in a unique situation.

Due to its size the Yesh Atid parliamentary group will be called upon to bring forth candidates to chair several important statutory committees in the Knesset (that is, if Lapid finally joins the coalition, as he is expected to do), and one deputy speaker, and we are talking about a group of people most of whom are totally new to politics, and many of whom have never set foot in either the Knesset plenum or any Knesset committee.

Hopefully the new parliamentary group will not only make full use of all the assistance and services that the Knesset itself has to offer, including those of the Knesset Secretariat, the Knesset Legal Department and the Knesset Research and Information Center, but will also mobilize some former MKs from the defunct Shinui Party, which in its last incarnation was headed by Yair Lapid’s father Tommy Lapid, to see them through the initial phase.

Two of the figures they could approach are Professor Amnon Rubinstein, a former minister and MK who is also the author of a book on Israeli constitutional law, and Attorney Avraham Poraz, who is also a former minister and MK, and intimately familiar with the causes that can bring about the fall of a promising party (Shinui had six MKs in the 15th Knesset, 15 in the 16th and none in the 17th).

It is impossible to say in advance whether the Yesh Atid MKs will shine and thrive, or wither and wilt in the next four years. Will we have a repeat performance of Raful and his seven dwarfs (that is how they were referred to in the media at the time) in the case of Tsomet in the 13th Knesset (1992-96), where eventually the seven new faces brought to the Knesset by Rafael Eitan disappeared without leaving much of a mark (except for the scandal of Dr.

Gonen Segev and Alex Goldfarb – the first ended up in prison on drug smuggling charges, the name of the second is remembered in connection with the Mitsubishi he received upon joining Rabin’s government)? Or will Lapid’s 18 recruits prove that novices can do better? IN AN article in The Economist’s December 1, 2012, issue, entitled “Outsiders can make the best leaders – and also the worst,” the British weekly reviewed what several authors, including Professor Gautam Mukunda (author of Indispensable), and William Thorndike (author of The Outsiders), had to say on the subject of totally new and totally inexperienced leaders in politics and industry respectively. The Economist‘ s conclusion was that “it is best to avoid outsiders if things are humming along fine... [but] if things have stopped humming... then you should look for an outsider.”

Assuming that the situation in Israel is at least approaching the latter case, it will be interesting to see how Yesh Atid in general and Yair Lapid in particular fare over the next four years.

Certainly there is reason for hope. But let us also hope that it will not all end in another colossal disappointment for the sane political center.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.
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