The Knesset turned into a giant talent showcase for legislators in honor of the parliament’s 67th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the dedication of its building in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram neighborhood, which it celebrated with an Open House The Knesset turned into a giant talent showcase for legislators in honor of the parliament’s 67th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the dedication of its building in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram neighborhood, which it celebrated with an Open House on Tuesday.
Thousands of visitors, many of whom were schoolchildren, filled the Knesset’s halls, taking part in what were not the usual parliamentary activities.
On one floor, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) and MK Hamad Amer (Yisrael Beytenu) showed off their karate moves.
The two were not well matched – Amar is a black belt sixth degree who has competed abroad, while Hanegbi is only a blue belt – but they were able to impress the crowd with their punching, kicking and shouting in Japanese.
Amar gave some sound political advice while explaining what he and Hanegbi were doing.
“Bow to your opponent to show him respect,” Amar said, demonstrating, “but always keep your eyes on him, because you don’t know what he might do.”
MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), a former professional Judoka, showed off his Japanese wrestling skills.
MK David Bitan (Likud), who watched his colleagues, poked fun at his own roundness, offering to partake in another form of Japanese martial arts – sumo wrestling. The only MK who offered to take him up on it was the petite Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), but Bitan was concerned that they are in different weight classes.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), dressed in spandex, led a spinning class on spinning bicycles rented specially for the occasion.
Dance music blasted in the background as Jelin, an avid cycler on stationary and mountain bikes, encouraged participants to pedal to the beat.
While normally the only animals in the Knesset are security dogs – and even they are rarely spotted – during the Open House a cat, a snake, a rabbit, lizards and parrots visited the legislature.
The snake naturally lent itself to many a joke about the nature of politicians.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), wearing an “I love dogs” shirt, demonstrated along with animal rescue and therapy organizations how to take care of and play with the different critters.
In the kitchen, MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) showed off his jam-making skills using 15 kg. of pears, and gave visitors his personal recipe and home-made jam in glass jars with a special Knesset label.
Knesset Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) was busy with another kind of jam, improvising a blues riff on guitar and playing and singing hassidic songs in the Chagall Hall, as children built a Lego model of the Knesset nearby.
Other MKs also showed off their musical talents. MK Tali Ploskov (Kulanu) played a piano composition she wrote at the age of 10 and revealed that, as a child, she wanted to be a professional pianist. MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) sang and played piano both alone and together with Smotrich, overcoming their usual political acrimony.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s office was filled with beanbag chairs for children to sit on, while he read a story and talked about the importance of not being a bully, dropping clear hints about how he expects MKs, not just children, to behave.
Former sportscaster MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) interviewed Edelstein and Israel national basketball coach Erez Edelstein about sports and politics.
Lawmakers also led discussions on a wide range of topics, from public participation in politics with MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) to farming with former Kibbutz Movement secretary-general MK Eitan Broshi (Zionist Union) and Vaknin, a moshavnik.
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) led a debating seminar for teenagers and moderated debates on topics including whether there should be a law requiring equal gender representation in the Knesset. Ironically, both of the debaters on that topic were male.
One of the goals of the Open House was to improve the Knesset’s image, since various polls have shown that the legislature has low public approval ratings.
There were some murmurs in the Knesset halls that perhaps spending so much time and money on an eclectic talent show would have the opposite effect.
Perhaps the fact that only about half of the members of Knesset were present on Tuesday shows how seriously some of them took the Open House.
After the festivities died down, MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who was not at the Knesset all day, tweeted: “Jewish blood is being spilled in the streets, the end is not in sight, and it turns out the Knesset is not dealing with solutions, rather, with gimmicks and celebrations.
“No doubt, that is how we will bring back the Knesset’s lost respect,” he added sarcastically.