(photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Israel has grown from 600,000 people to eight million since its establishment in 1948, so should the size of its parliament rise accordingly?
Yes, according to a bill submitted by United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev that has the support of coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud).
The idea of the Knesset having 120 MKs comes from the Anshei Knesset Hagdola – Men of the Great Assembly – a body that governed the Jewish people in the Land of Israel from the days of Ezra around 520 BCE until the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
But Maklev said that with all due respect to that historic tradition, it is more important for there to be enough MKs to legislate bills. The bulk of the legislative process takes place in Knesset committees, where 31 parliamentarians – including ministers, deputy ministers and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein – are not members. With a coalition of 65 MKs, that leaves only 34 legislators to do all that work.
The bill was inspired by the work of Dr. Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute, who wrote recently that while the number of MKs has remained unchanged since Israel’s founding, parliaments have been enlarged in the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.
“The parliaments of all the other countries with populations smaller than Israel’s have a higher number of members than the Knesset does,” said Kenig, who compared Israel to 17 democracies with populations that range between four and 12 million people.
For example, New Zealand, with a population half that of Israel’s, has a parliament the same size as the Knesset, 120 members. And Finland, which also has a population smaller than Israel’s, has 200.
Kenig wrote that with so few MKs, the work of the Knesset suffers.
“Each Knesset member serves on several parliamentary committees, which prevents him or her from acquiring expertise and becoming a professional on a particular committee,” he wrote. “As a result, many debates are sparsely attended and proceed even though many members are missing. This situation harms the Knesset’s potential to supervise in general.”