(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset’s plenum remained mostly empty at 11 a.m. Monday, with only a handful of MKs in the room and no minister present for when an emergency meeting on the natural gas market and poverty was scheduled.
Although members of the opposition called the meeting, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) did not attend, as he and MK Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) called a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on the impending closure of Channel 10 at the same time.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had to close the meeting, as according to Knesset regulations a minister must be present in any plenary session, and could not open it for another 33 minutes, when Construction Minister Uri Ariel arrived, though he was not scheduled to do so.
This is far from the first time a Knesset meeting was abruptly cut short because of a lack of ministerial presence. In one of the final plenum sessions before the 19th Knesset was dispersed, MK Arye Deri (Shas) stopped his speech for that reason, complaining he felt dishonored and “as a Moroccan, honor is important to me.”
As the meeting continued with his deputies at the helm, Edelstein admitted he only partially succeeded in his goal to bring more honor and dignity to the Knesset, including more respect and cooperation from the executive branch.
“I knew what was waiting for me when I came to this job; I had three terms’ experience as a deputy speaker,” he explained.
“I had all kinds of parliamentary reforms in mind for the Knesset vis a vis the government. We started working on them, but didn’t finish anything because the 19th Knesset came to an abrupt end,” the Knesset speaker lamented.
Edelstein hopes the next Knesset and government will continue on the path he started, and added that plenary procedure needs innovations after so many years without change.
Another area that needs improvement is MKs’ behavior in the plenum, which Edelstein said “leaves much to be desired,” at the end of nearly two years leading the Knesset in which MK Meir Porush (UTJ) handcuffed himself to the stand and MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) poured water on a bill, among other stunts.
Despite the snub from the government and MKs’ indecorousness, the speaker was optimistic that the Knesset is getting more respect from the public.
Edelstein pointed to the Green Knesset project overhauling the legislature’s infrastructure, which won this year’s Green Globe prize from Life and Environment, the umbrella group for all of Israel’s environmental organizations, as improving the Knesset’s image.
The speaker also said he worked on increasing transparency in the Knesset.
“I think the improvement in this area is great,” he stated. “The ideas of watchdog groups have been implemented. It used to be [that only] if you were watching [votes in committee meetings] live, you could see how someone voted and what someone said. Now, with the new committee websites, you can find every discussion and every vote. That improves the Knesset’s image a lot.”
Still, Edelstein made clear that transparency has its limits. In an apparent reference to the “100 Days of Transparency” project that sought to send private investigators to follow MKs, he said “MKs are entitled to a private life.
It’s not necessary to report every cup of coffee they had with someone and who paid.”
During Monday’s plenum meeting, Labor MK Raleb Majadele was sworn in to replace Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who retired from politics earlier this month.
Majadele was first elected to the 16th Knesset and was a member of the 17th and 18th Knessets as well, and served as science, culture and sport minister.
MK Yuval Zellner (Kadima) was also sworn in, replacing Yisrael Hasson, who became chairman of the Antiquities Authority. Zellner was an MK for eight months in 2012.
During the plenum meeting, MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) gave what was likely his last plenum speech after 30 years as a MK, as he announced last week that he is leaving politics.
“It was a great privilege to serve the country and the nation, and I pray that the coming terms will bring the country to safety and peace and Israeli society will be more egalitarian, just and of a high caliber,” he said.