Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Knesset, 31 January, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his support and encouragement to the Iranians protesting against the Islamic regime in his speech to the Knesset on Wednesday, in honor of the 69th anniversary of its first meeting.
Netanyahu focused much of his speech speaking in praise of democracy, and saying he wished the same for the Iranians.
The first meeting of Knesset 69 years ago showed that Israel “won something truly dear to us – national liberty... We showed the world how a small, brave nation creates a system of freedom under the law, with individual rights,” he said.
The prime minister contrasted Israeli democracy with the Iranian regime, where, he said, “The enemies of progress are sending its proxies all over with deadly weapons.”
“History shows that there have been democracies that were in a coma in light of the dangers. In the spirit of [Winston] Churchill, they did not wake up ‘until the jarring gong of danger awakens.’ Israel does not have this deficiency,” Netanyahu said.
However, Netanyahu added, “Our enemy is not the Iranian people. They took to the streets, because they don’t want oppression; they don’t want despair.
“I hope the Iranian people attain freedom and establish a flourishing democracy,” he said. “The spread of democracy is the spread of peace.”
Netanyahu also said many of the residents of Israel’s neighboring countries aspire to democracy, and look at the Knesset in admiration.
As for the debates and disagreements in the Knesset, Netanyahu said: “There are no democracies without tension. It’s not a problem with democracy – it’s an integral component of democracy... Democracy is always changing; it’s not frozen... Life changes, the nation changes, democracy changes with them... It’s not static, it moves. There are arguments.”
“The parts of the Knesset that are creaky get the most attention, but there is great work happening here every day. The Knesset is just one of three branches on which democracy leans,” he noted.
In an apparently knock on judicial activism, Netanyahu said, “We need balance between the branches of government. No one of them is the prime ruler of the land.”
Israeli democracy remains strong, the prime minister added: “There are no perfect countries, but our democracy works well, even if it has places to improve. No other democracy faces the daily tests we face.
The self-flagellation is wrong.”
Netanyahu concluded his speech with a quote from former US president John F. Kennedy: “Israel was not created in order to disappear. Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein focused on the positive in the Knesset, saying that MKs can be proud. The Knesset’s “roots are deep in Jewish history, which is a history of law and commentary,” he said.
Edelstein encouraged lawmakers to respect one another. “To create a society, we have to sit together, look one another in the eyes and compromise,” he said. “We each have to remember that our voices are important, but they’re not the only ones. We’re not singing a solo.”
The Knesset, Edelstein said, is where Israel’s complex society deals with the challenge of coexisting with people who disagree. “We know how to shout at each other, but also to laugh. We defend our democracy through one article after another in our committees and the plenum,” he said.
At the end of Edelstein’s speech, as Netanyahu approached the stage, firebrand Likud MK Oren Hazan began to shout, and the speaker ejected him, citing a rule instated last year of zero tolerance for disturbances during special Knesset meetings.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also spoke in praise of Israeli democracy, but criticized the current coalition for boycotting all opposition legislation.
The boycott was announced three weeks ago in response to multiple opposition filibusters, and taking advantage of several coalition MKs’ absence to go to the funeral of a victim of terrorism to try to knock out a bill.
Herzog called the boycott “anti-democratic,” and quoted long-time leader of the opposition and former prime minister Menachem Begin, who stressed how the opposition is an essential part of democracy.