Absent Knesset

The Knesset is detached from the public's needs. Hence the failure to respond to the crisis in the South.

May 20, 2007 07:09
3 minute read.
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Last week, without provocation, Israel was attacked by dozens of Palestinian rockets from Gaza. This terrorist assault threatened Sderot's 23,000 residents as well as their neighbors in adjacent rural areas. Some of the projectiles reached all the way to Ashkelon, with its concentration of sensitive strategic targets and attendant potential for a disaster, should any rocket score a direct hit there. That same week's Knesset agenda was particularly laden. It included such burning issues as a report on the recent parliamentary conference in Tunis of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, greetings for El Salvador's foreign minister, a murder in Kafr Rameh, a B'Tselem report on Palestinian welfare in Hebron, the Gil Pensioners' faction support for striking students, what to do with agricultural surplus, a Tira old-age home, Arabic on National Insurance Institute forms, halted road construction near Elad and the Israel Railways' development budget. No plenum attention was spared for Sderot's recurrent ordeal. MKs were informed that proposed bills on the following had been submitted: assistance for Chernobyl disaster victims and aid-givers, new Shabbat legislation, workplace absences by female employees, probationary nonregistration of offenses for juvenile delinquents, bodyguards for mayors and municipal officials, amendment of paternity test regulations, amendment of free school lunch regulations, regulations for absorption services by local authorities, and reduction of real estate purchasing tax, among many others. But what really gripped the MKs were the odds and the machinations related to their own upcoming vote for Israel's next president. No doubt some of the above issues are eminently worthy matters that deserve the serious attention of the people's representatives. But the fact that Sderot seemed not to merit mention in plenum deliberations amounts to a disgraceful dereliction of parliamentary duty. Looking at the MKs' priorities, one might be forgiven for thinking that they were legislating somewhere else - distant and thoroughly divorced from our realities, emergencies and fears. Despite the escalation in the South, the Knesset did not deviate from its predetermined schedule. The hardship and helplessness of Israeli citizens, pleading for protection and assistance as up to 30 Kassams per day crash into Sderot, did not feature on any substantive agenda. To be sure, politicians did not resist pontificating into every available microphone and some - most prominently Knesset Finance Committee members - showed up for photo-ops in the hard-luck town. But this was lip-service, shows of support rather than practical effort. The Knesset's disconnect from daily reality is particularly disconcerting in view of the patent weakness of this government, which badly mismanaged the Second Lebanon War, and is now hindered by the outcome and challenged by the loss of military deterrence the war caused. Now, again, the government has proved slow to act in some of its most basic areas of responsibility - its failure to ensure that bomb-shelters are usable echoes similar failures in the North last summer. And now, as then, it took the personal initiative of a private philanthropist, Arkadi Gaydamak, to embarrass the government into arranging temporary evacuation for those residents least able to withstand the rocket attacks. Some of the governmental ineptitude exposed last summer, confirmed in the Winograd Report and continuing now in the South, might have ameliorated had the legislative branch made a serious effort to fill at least part of the breach. But the Knesset, too, is quite detached from the public mood and the public's needs. The narrow calculations of MKs and their parties ensured that the current coalition was able to survive despite Winograd's scathing critique of its basic capacity to govern. Hence the failure to respond to the crisis in the South. The cutoff is indicative of chronic alienation between the elected representatives and their electorate. The cynicism, distrust and scorn for the system that this estrangement spawns in our society constitute genuine strategic dangers to the state. At a time of deepening regional crisis, Israel is led by increasingly self-centered and inexpert politicians. The malaise, the Knesset proved in its inertia these last few days, extends far beyond the cabinet into the furthest reaches of parliament. Too many of our Knesset members, focused on personal intrigue and minutiae, seem to have lost sight of their central purpose: serving the people.

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