Members of the 19th Knesset swore to be faithful in their new role on Tuesday, in a celebratory ceremony with red carpets, trumpeters and hors d’oeuvres.
New MKs beamed as they shook hands with each other and some of the 1,000 people attending the ceremony, expressing excitement at their first day on the job.
Knesset veterans made sure to warn newcomers that being a lawmaker is not all fun and games, but carries a heavy responsibility.
“We have a record number of new MKs, 48. Veterans were elected, which allows a balance between the new and the experienced. The Knesset is not above the nation, it represents the nation,” President Shimon Peres said, after being escorted into the Knesset by four horsemen and entering the plenum to fanfare from three IDF Band trumpeters.
The president added that there is no greater privilege than to serve the people, and wished the legislators luck.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recalled his excitement on his own first day as an MK back in 1988, and told the newcomers they should continue with that excitement and a sense of responsibility when they serve as lawmakers.
Netanyahu also gave the lawmakers two pieces of advice: “First, quoting Hillel, don’t do unto others what you yourself hate. We are all human and need to respect one another. If we do, the public will respect us.
“Second, in trying times, we should put political fights aside and know to be united for the joint goal of ensuring the security and future of our country.”
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), acting as Knesset Speaker because he is the oldest MK (he turns 77 next Tuesday), said a prayer: “I hope God will bless the 19th Knesset and give us, the MKs, grace and intelligence to pass good laws, respect one another and hold discussion with tolerance and civility, and faithfully serve the State of Israel and all its citizens.”
“The Knesset is the realization of Israeli democracy,” 18th Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said.
“Without the Knesset, there would be no democracy here, and if we were not a democracy, I believe, there would not be a State of Israel,” he said.
Before the speeches and the swearing-in began, the MKs, their guests, foreign dignitaries and others invited to the ceremony mingled while eating finger sandwiches and mousse.
Attendees wore their best clothing, from outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who wore a blazer instead of his usual leather jacket, to new Bayit Yehudi MK Orit Struck, who matched a sparkly head scarf with an equally shiny sweater, to Sara Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister, who wore a controversially sheer lace dress that quickly became an Internet meme.
Many of the MKs brought their children to watch the swearing-in.
Any politician with a young daughter made sure to dress her to the nines. MKs Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu), Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and others arrived with little girls in frilly dresses, hairbows and shiny Mary Janes.
Nearly every lawmaker had his family in tow. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett brought his mother, Myrna, who teared up describing her excitement. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was accompanied by his mother and his wife, Shulamit Lapid and Lihi Lapid, both famous writers.
There were even celebrity couples for the guests to gossip about, including Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Channel 1 reporter Geula Even, who were spotted holding hands. Lior Schleien, comedian and host of Channel 2’s satirical State of the Nation program, ran to MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) to give her a congratulatory kiss after her swearing-in. Schleien and Michaeli later visited Netanyahu in his office.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) showed off her new fiancé, Or Alon, to other MKs and the press, after announcing her engagement on Saturday night.
Netanyahu presented them with flowers at the morning’s Likud Beytenu faction meeting.
The swearing-in ceremony began with fanfare and a musical performance by singer Kobi Aflalo.
Balad MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, as well as MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List- Ta’al) left immediately after being sworn in to the Knesset, before the singing of “Hatikva.”
Ghattas also refused to wear the boutonniere presented to all MKs because of its blue and white ribbon.
During the ceremony, Iran and the Arab Spring were mentioned in many of the speeches as threats and challenges the next government will have to face.
“[US President Barack] Obama created a broad coalition meant to prevent a nuclear Iran, which began with diplomatic pressure and sanctions, and made clear that it does not reject other options on the table. The US can bring an end to the Iranian threat, and I believe that the US president is determined to do so,” Peres said.
Netanyahu pointed to “new threats around us,” calling for peace with Israel’s neighbors.
“No one will make peace with a weak, divided Israel. Only a strong Israel can ensure peace,” he emphasized.
Ben-Eliezer said that the peace with Egypt is facing trying times and there is great bloodshed in Syria, with the possibility of nonconventional weapons reaching terrorist groups, but the greatest threat is Iran’s nuclearization and pursuit of regional hegemony.
At the ceremony’s end, lawmakers were given glasses of wine to toast the 19th Knesset.
Meanwhile, at least three MKs managed to submit legislation on their first day on the job. MK Nachman Shai (Labor) submitted 30 bills, some of which did not pass in the previous Knesset.
One of them would establish a national authority for public diplomacy.
Labor MK Michal Biran submitted three bills, one to establish a public pension fund, another to discourage employers from hiring contract workers and another that would require a month to pass between the budget’s submission and its Knesset vote, so MKs have time to study it.
MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) proposed a bill that would not allow a citizen of an enemy state to sue for damages in Israel. The legislation comes in response to a High Court ruling that Lebanese terrorist Mustafa Dirani could sue the state for NIS 6 million in damages for the treatment he allegedly received while being interrogated about missing IAF navigator Ron Arad’s whereabouts.