tzahi hanegbi 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Breaking decades of tradition, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) has proposed that seven committee hearings each year be open to the public.
Since the founding of the State of Israel, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had been closed to the public due to the sensitive military information that committee members say is often discussed inside.
Even the protocols of the committee members are entirely closed to the public, and only released after a period of 30 years. Officials from the military establishment ranging from the head of intelligence to the IDF chief of General Staff regularly appear before the committee.
According to Hanegbi, however, the most sensitive material is often held back and only discussed in a special subcommittee for military intelligence.
"I feel that the great majority of the material discussed here is material that should be made available to the public," said Hanegbi. "We will simply have to be more careful with what we disclose in the committee meetings."
Hanegbi said that he was inspired to open the committee to the public after visiting the United States Congress, where committee meetings with high-ranking government officials were regularly opened to the public.
Like the Congress, Hanegbi suggested that committees would only be closed if the committee members voted to close them.
"By opening these meetings, and broadcasting them in a way that allows all of the Israeli public to participate, we are increasing public oversight of the defense and political establishments," said Hanegbi.
The defense minister, prime minister, IDF chief of General Staff, foreign minister, Shin Bet chief, the head of Military Intelligence, and the head of the National Security Council would all be asked to participate in the open hearings. Hanegbi added that he decided not to include the head of the Mossad in the open briefs, but that he would reconsider depending how the meetings progressed.
Hanegbi intends to ask the committee to authorize the step in a meeting next week. If the initiative is approved, Hanegbi will prepare legislation to alter the Basic Law of the Knesset for the relevant changes.
The former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), has already announced that he disagrees with Hanegbi's proposal.
"This proposal creates a slippery slope that can't be easily stopped," said Steinitz.
"A significant part of the committee's prestige stems from the fact that the committee is held behind closed doors and opening up any discussion will damage this."