haim ramon hand on head.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When former justice minister Haim Ramon was called in to explain to the Kadima faction why a young woman accused him of sexual misconduct his response was, "I don't know what it was, but I know what it wasn't." His words were echoed Wednesday on the final day of the Knesset's term, as MKs struggled to reflect on and define their work during the past session.
"It's easier to say what this Knesset wasn't, than what it was," a Kadima MK told The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity. "It wasn't a time when politicians shone. It wasn't a time when the public regained trust in their government. And it certainly wasn't a time when serious lawmaking was accomplished."
Instead, as MKs across the spectrum have acknowledged, one embarrassing headline after another battered the Knesset.
In the six months since the 17th Knesset was sworn into office, six scandals have rocked the institution: alleged sexual misconduct by Ramon and President Moshe Katsav, MK Estherina Tartman's falsified degrees, MK Yoram Marciano's nightclub brawl, alleged political appointments by MK Tzahi Hanegbi and alleged embezzlement by Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson.
That wasn't the way it was supposed to go, said MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud). As speaker of the previous Knesset, Rivlin urged voters to go to the ballots and cast their votes for better lawmakers. He promised that the Knesset could and should be an honorable institution of industrious lawmaking.
When the Knesset began its term there were a number of serious issues on the table.
MKs in the Law Committee were preparing to tackle election and presidential reform bills, said Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima). The House Committee was overflowing with laws defining who could be an MK and under what conditions, said Committee Chairwoman Ruhama Avraham (Kadima). And the Interior and Welfare Committees should have been two of the busiest committees in the Knesset, judging by the socioeconomic campaigns run by the major political parties, said Interior and Environment Committee Chairman Ophir Paz-Pines.
The Knesset also made headlines with the so-called Peres Bill, legislation that would have swapped the anonymous ballot with an open vote for president. The bill, which was publicly supported by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his first month in office, would have handed the upcoming presidential election to Vice Premier Shimon Peres. On Monday, however, MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) called a press conference to announce that he was freezing the bill, saying it was "just and good legislature," but that the "time was not quite ripe" for it.
The Knesset also lost two veteran MKs this session. MK Natan Sharansky (Likud) announced he was leaving the Knesset for a job in the public sector after more than a decade in public office. And the late MK Yuri Shtern (Israel Beiteinu) passed away January 16 following a long illness.
"It has a been a long and eventful Knesset term, both longer than usual and more eventful than usual," said MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud). "I don't expect that this government will live out its days... The public has had enough and wants a new Knesset."
At the Knesset's final term Wednesday there was one bill that quietly passed a first reading. Initiated by the Law Committee, the bill would create an amendment to the Basic Law of the Knesset that calls for the automatic suspension of an MK that has been convicted of a crime.
If it were to go into effect, it could apply to nearly half a dozen MKs that are facing possible indictment charges.
"Maybe what we need is a clean house," said the Kadima MK who called the 17th Knesset a term of "wasn't". "Maybe if all we do is pass a law, making it so that we have better lawmakers in the future, that will be the best we can do... it [could] make up for what we didn't do."