knesset carpet 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As legislators returned to the Knesset this week to confront the new set of challenges that awaited them, they could take comfort in the new face of the Knesset, which has gotten its first major makeover in 40 years.
The current building has not been remodeled since it was first opened August 30, 1966. More than NIS 2 million have been spent to give the Knesset its new look, with design efforts being led by Knesset Director- General Avi Balashnikov in consultation with the Knesset office on decorum and presentation.
Hundreds of small touches have been made all over the building, but some of the more significant changes include more than a dozen Persian carpets that are scattered on the corridor floors of the building, black leather stylized sofas and armchairs arranged in the formerly bare waiting areas, standing orders for all of the committee rooms to be filled with flower arrangements, a convenient new drive-in entrance and lobby, reupholstered chairs, repainted walls and new carpets.
As if that were not enough, next week the Knesset will receive a Chagall painting for the north wall of the new banquet hall that has been retouched by professionals in France. The painting, which was a gift from Chagall 32 years ago, is worth $3.5 million.
Knesset members have greeted their new surroundings with nearly unanimous enthusiasm, and have lauded Balashnikov (more commonly known as right-hand man to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik) for overseeing the renovations.
While most MKs spent the weekend resting before the Knesset's big opening day, Balashnikov spent his weekend supervising the final touches on the Knesset.
On Sunday, Balashnikov could be seen conducting a team of more than a dozen custodial workers in the fine art of Persian carpet placement in the Knesset.
"Horizontal or vertical? Should they line up to the walls or to floor plants? We need to make a decision, people," Balashnikov was heard shouting to his team. The sight of the director general doing a fine impression of a traffic conductor as he directed janitors to arrange chairs in the plenum attracted at least one MK who happened to be in the building.
"They have done wonderful, just wonderful work here," said Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman. "It is clear that this building has finally seen a women's touch." (Itzik is the first female speaker in Knesset history.)
Balashnikov explained that while some of the changes were aesthetic, others had been made for reasons of convenience. In the parking lot, for instance, many a traffic jam had been caused by government ministers who had their drivers drop them off near the security entrance before continuing on to park the cars. Now, the new u-shaped drive-in entrance provides drivers with an easier route to drop off their VIPs.
In the plenum, the minister's table has become the butt of jokes, as the ministers bump elbows at the table meant for far fewer than the 24 who currently fill the seats. Rather than rid themselves of portfolio positions, however, new chairs have been designed sans the arm rests so the seats can be placed more closely together.
Perhaps most exciting for many of the MKs is the new ownership of the cafeteria by The Coffee Shop chain.
"I haven't tried the new food yet, but let me tell you, the last cafeteria owner, Moti [Simchas], actually managed to wean me off my addiction to coffee with that black syrup he used to pass as caffeine," said one veteran Knesset employee. "I've tried the new cafeteria coffee only a few times now, but I'm proud to see that my caffeine addiction is back up and running."
The employee added that she was not sure why the changes had been made at this point in time. ("There was a war going on, how did they find the time?" she asked.)
In response, The Jerusalem Post conferred with several of the more senior custodial employees of the Knesset, and would like to present possible explanations for the changes in the Knesset:
New drive-through entrance: To make it easier for MKs to arrive and thus encourage higher attendance.
Stronger, blacker, better coffee: To eradicate those unsightly yawns and droopy eyes during long committee meetings.
New upright-back chairs in the plenum: To give the MKs more backbone during key votes.
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