“MK Rabbi Gafni, your time is up,” I announced, attempting to sound
authoritative, but MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) continued explaining
why haredim (ultra- Orthodox) don’t serve in the IDF.
unfortunately, there is no more time,” I tried again.
“But this is
interesting!” he insisted.
As a reporter in the Knesset, I watch MKs
argue almost every day. Suddenly, on Wednesday, I found myself in the eye of the
How did I get here?
About two weeks ago, Knesset spokesman Yotam
Yakir asked me if I would be willing to lend a hand during the Knesset Open
House in honor of its 63rd birthday, and moderate a debate between Gafni and MK
Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) on discrimination against women in the IDF.
agreed almost instantly.
As one of four females out of dozens of
parliamentary reporters, I was honored to represent my gender in the debates.
Hotovely is very passionate about women’s rights and Gafni is known for his
quick wit, so I knew I wouldn’t be bored. I’ve spoken to both MKs plenty of
times, and I did not feel uncomfortable with them.
Yet, I did not realize
that being in the middle of their crossfire would be much more nerve-wracking
than listening in on committee meetings or stopping MKs in the hallway to answer
questions, like I do on most days.
For one, no one really wanted to hear
my questions – Gafni and Hotovely each had their own agenda, debating decorum be
The debate was scheduled for 11:30, but both MKs arrived
fashionably late. I introduced myself and them, and talked for a minute about
the topic at hand. The status of women in the IDF recently became a hot topic
after three religious IDF soldiers left a ceremony in which a female soldier
sang, I explained. Then, I gave each MK six minutes to
Hotovely began, because Gafni said “ladies first,” and almost
immediately changed the topic to something only somewhat related: Why most
haredim do not serve in the IDF, and why are there no female haredi
She spoke for two minutes, and demanded an answer from Gafni, who
insisted that he deserves Hotovely’s remaining four minutes, and spoke for 10,
despite my protestations. Then, Hotovely asked for her four minutes
Gafni said the reason the Jewish people survived 2,000 years in the
Diaspora is because of those who studied Torah, and quoted Biblical passages
that said half of the nation should study while the other half goes to
Hotovely, however, said that in the case of a war to defend Israel,
Halacha dictates that everyone, even a groom on the day of his wedding, should
enlist, and this applies to the current situation, because Israel’s existence is
threatened every day.
As for why there are no women in haredi parties,
Gafni said in his community there are roles for men and roles for women, and no
haredi-raised woman would even want to be an MK.
Hotovely bet him she
could find plenty of haredi women who would disagree, and said that, as a
Zionist, it is an honor and an imperative for her to serve her country in the
“Tell me, now many Likud MKs are women? How many female
ministers are there?” Gafni retorted. (The answer: five and three.)
conversation seems organized and civil in writing, but don’t forget – this is
the Knesset. There was a little bit of shouting, a lot of interrupting, no
shortage of sarcastic comments and no respect for time limits – all of the
things that make the legislature both fascinating and infuriating.
first, I was nervous. Yakir had said to me to make sure the MKs stick to
the schedule, or else there would be chaos, and clearly I was unable to keep
things in order.
Then, as Gafni continued to crack wise and Hotovely
acted appalled, I realized that this is all part of the game I see them and 118
other MKs play every day, only I can’t kick them out of the room for
interrupting three times.
Plus, the groups of soldiers and cadets in the
Israel Police officers’ course gathered in the conference room seemed to be
having a good time.
After 40 minutes, I was finally able to convince the
MKs to stop arguing, and make room for the next debate, between MKs Alex Miller
(Israel Beiteinu) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), which I was not
Gafni turned to me and Hotovely and said: “That went very well!
Tzipi, you know your stuff.”
Hotovely told me I’m a great moderator, and
we should do this again next year.
Go figure. If chaos is the norm, I
must have done a relatively good job.