This article was written on April Fool’s Day.
Those who really think that
Israel’s critical strategic policy decisions are taken in the Prime Minister’s
Office or at IDF headquarters are wrong.
The decisions – over war and
peace, who is a Jew or an Arab, democracy or theocracy, economic rescue or
meltdown – are all taken in the real inner sanctum of Israel’s decision-making
process: the world famous Knesset cafeteria.
Entry is allowed only to
those privileged individuals that we, for one reason or another, have elected to
represent us. A regular citizen treats an entry pass to this half-star
restaurant as one of the major highlights of his or her life.
I have been
there, as a frustrated member of Knesset, but also as a curious observer. The
following is a snapshot of what could actually take place there.
good day the cafeteria looks like a kibbutz dining room after a heated debate
over Marxist education. The eyes of our legislators are not set on the
aesthetics of the place, but rather on the center stage of the room – the
buffet, prepared by the kindest and worst chefs in Israel, those who won the
tender for “who can prepare stuffed peppers in less than a minute for less than
And yet the menu somewhat resembles the one at the Tour
D’Argent in Paris: stuffed peppers à la Galilée du Nord, Kfar Saba schnitzel
with pommes de terre à la Negev, creamy spinach soup à la Green Line, “Raful’s
famous plum pudding” for desert.
Most of the representatives are
intensely engaged in deep soulsearching and lively debate on their culinary
preferences. Good relations with the waiters, the most sympathetic inhabitants
of the cafeteria, are absolutely key.
When that strategic crossroads has
been crossed, hours before lunch, the MKs need to make important geopolitical
decisions about whom should they sit with, mostly in order to attract attention
of the Knesset correspondents, the most respected inhabitants of the House. A
mixture of two or three coalition members, one leftist, one haredi and an Arab
is generally recommended. And this is how quite lively discussions begin at most
tables: • At Table 1, strategically close to the buffet, sit Minister Limor
Livnat and MKs Merav Michaeli and Nissim Ze’ev, preparing for their speeches on
International Women’s Day.
Ze’ev mumbles through his thick beard: “What
is the fuss about Women’s Day? In the scriptures, the role of women, our four
matriarchs, is duly highlighted. We live by this. My wife, may she live long, is
one of the best cooks in Jerusalem. She never misses a meal when I come home
exhausted from a day’s work.”
Michaeli: “Nissim, you live in the Stone
Age. When I come home, dinner is served by my partner, Lior Shlein. Gender
equality is the most important human right.
Marilyn Monroe once said: “a
woman who aspires to equality with men is not ambitious.’” Ze’ev: “Marilyn who?”
Livnat: “Just a blond shiksa. We in the national movement aspire to equality for
all humans, Jews of course. Look at the Netanyahu household...” a common grin by
the loyal opposition, Ze’ev and Michaeli.
• Table 2 – on the far right of
the room, where MKs Miri Regev, Shelly Yacimovich and Amram Mitzna discuss the
possible eviction of the Amona outpost in the West Bank. Regev, already eating
some pickles – served by her friend Benny “the fox,” the most skillful of the
Knesset waiters in making powerful friends – says: “I will be there to stop with
my own body such an eviction, waving the blue and white. Bibi-Bugi-Buji – a
kindergarten, all foot soldiers for Barack Obama since his visit.
they understand this is Eretz Israel! Our forefathers walked
Mitzna: “And I fought there; but this outpost was built on
Palestinian private land. Miri, from one general to another, give up on Greater
Israel. It will bring an end to the Zionist dream; an end to
Regev shouts, awakening the entire cafeteria: “Never, Amram,
never, do you hear me, never!” Yacimovich: “You make too much noise. I need to
focus only on social issues.”
• At the center of the room sit a table of
prominent journalists, Nahum Barnea, Ayala Hasson and Co. Among them is the
former MK Yossi Sarid, addicted to impressing his media audience with his
tormented brilliance, and former journalists MKs Yair Lapid, Nachman Shai and
Nitzan Horowitz – the prophets of this cafeteria congregation.
what happened, is happening and will happen in the country, region and world.
But we don’t know what they know, as they whisper to each other with
Around them a team of 11 Knesset members,
handing the journalists small sheets of paper with “state secrets” and even
their personal phone numbers.
One note read: Ayala, one minute on Mabat
and I will tell you the precise date and location of the attack on
• Table 3 – Speaker Yuli Edelstein, MK Yariv Levin, MK Ahmed Tibi,
in a heated discussion on democracy.
Edelstein: “Plato was right,” and
then he quotes “A measure of a man is what he does with power.”
believe me, I know what to do with power. That’s why Bibi preferred me over
Rivlin; Rubi took the opposition seriously. I will play by the rules of a true
Levin: “We can do the right thing, Yuli, but then come
these leftists on the High Court of Justice and ruin it all with their
subversive decisions. I will pass a law to make sure that High Court justices
are elected by the coalition, where we have a majority.”
Tibi: “Go ahead,
guys, you are committing national suicide, this is good for us.” And then he
starts reciting the lengthy decision of the Arab MKs on the matter, only to be
interrupted by the declaration that all members – without difference of
religion, gender or party – have been waiting for: “Lunch is ready” proclaims
Shalom, the sous-chef.
Within a second, they all storm the buffet,
pushing one another relentlessly with their elbows.
And they have elbows
– this is how they got here in the first place.
This somewhat satirical
description is not far from reality. Our House of Commons is not representative
of the common sense of the country.
Politically, it has become almost
irrelevant, as the executive is making the important decisions on legislation
and declarative decisions are without value. War and peace are decided by the
cabinet and the generals, economics by the clerks of the Ministry of Finance,
religion and state relations by the rabbis. The one thing that is being
influenced by the Knesset is our democracy. A strong legislature would balance
our executive; a pluralistic debate of a high level of discourse would educate
our young to democratic values; good social and democratic legislation would
strengthen the country’s democratic fabric and social justice.
is not what is happening on the hill in Jerusalem.
Instead of leading
society to better shores, the legislature reflects the worst of it – inflated
egos serving themselves instead of the people, total dependency on the powerful
executive and nationalistic preaching overshadowing equal rights legislation.
And so, sadly, we are left with the cafeteria.The writer is president of
the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo
Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this piece.