Happy 65th birthday Knesset!

Legislature celebrates with open house featuring speeches by PM, President, Speaker, prayers from chief rabbis and MKs reading stories to children and moderating debates for teens.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein with "Menachem Begin" and "David Ben-Gurion" (photo credit: Courtesy of Knesset)
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein with "Menachem Begin" and "David Ben-Gurion"
(photo credit: Courtesy of Knesset)
The Knesset celebrated its 65th birthday by opening its doors to 4,000 visitors who took part in its annual open house on Tuesday and hosting speeches about the legislature’s role in democracy.
“We have a wonderful Knesset,” Speaker Yuli Edelstein enthusiastically declaimed from the plenum’s stage.
“Sixty-five years ago the seed was planted and the foundations of Israeli parliamentary democracy were laid.
Since then, it has grown into a glorious tree and its roots have deepened in Israeli society,” he said, referring to the Knesset’s birthday coinciding with Tu Bishvat.
“This House, the house of the people, brings the most difficult and bitter arguments.
Stances and ideologies, faiths and hopes compete here, but there is room for everyone.
This is also a place of decisions, which we accept when they are made, even if we disagree with them,” Edelstein said.
The speaker said he was proud to stand at the head of a Knesset with “variety in genders, ethnicities, religions, cultures and nations. This is our beauty, the colorful mosaic we comprise.”
Visitors – individuals and groups ranging from air force personnel to kindergarten pupils to young Diaspora Jews participating in long-term Masa programs – filled the legislature’s committee rooms and auditoriums for a range of activities led by lawmakers.
Edelstein, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and others read stories to children, while Education Minister Shai Piron and other legislators moderated debates between high school students.
During a storytelling hour, in which Edelstein and author Rinat Hoffer read her book Hannan the Gardener out loud, a child asked Edelstein why he became a Knesset member.
The speaker responded with a smile: “When many new immigrants came to Israel [from the USSR in the 1990s], someone had to make sure they had houses and jobs. I and others saw that in order to help them, we had to be in the Knesset. It’s hard work, but it’s always interesting.”
Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau led afternoon prayers in the Knesset’s synagogue, with male MKs from Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Likud participating.
“Do all you can to bring the law closer to the Torah,” Yosef told the lawmakers. “If everything can go according to the Torah, that would be great, but I’m realistic, I’m not Joseph the Dreamer. So just try to make as many laws as possible in the spirit of the Torah.”
Lau reminded legislators that the Jewish people were commanded to be respectful before they received the Torah, saying: “Talk to one another, not about one another, and then this House will pass good laws.”
Actors performed as former prime ministers Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion. MK Moshe Mizrahi (Labor) exhibited his drawings, and MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) introduced children to Mando, the seeing-eye dog his family is training.
“This House has known serious arguments and consensus,” President Shimon Peres said in the plenum in the meeting closing the birthday celebrations.
“Speeches on peace were given and lessons from wars were learned. Here in the plenum and the committees, Israeli society is shaped through laws and regulations.”
Peres, who was a member of Knesset for 48 years, told MKs they are privileged to serve and represent the “wonderful nation of Israel.”
“Emphasize three goals: reaching peace with our neighbors, increasing our level in science and education, and bringing social justice for all,” the president advised.
“It has great meaning that the Knesset, the symbol of our democracy, opened its doors on Tu Bishvat, a day that is about planting trees as a symbol of putting down roots in our homeland,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu pointed out that the Knesset first opened 65 years ago in Jerusalem, before it was declared the official capital of the nine-month-old state, because “it was clear that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
Eying the mostly empty plenum, the prime minister criticized ministers and lawmakers who did not attend the celebrations, saying that next year he will make sure they do.
“Democracy has deep roots for the Jewish people, which come from the idea of every man being created in the image of God. Our tremendous growth, army, technology and agriculture are a direct result of our democratic government, which is strong, stable yet changing,” Netanyahu said. “President [Abraham] Lincoln said, ‘A government of the people, for the people, by the people,’ and that is what we are trying to realize.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) warned against raising the two percent electoral threshold, which he said was an intentional effort to hurt opposition parties.
“In such a complex and often divided society, this is the only place in which minority groups’ voices are heard,” Herzog said. “‘Electoral reform’ is part of a predatory move that endangers the pluralism in this House and the opposition, which are the lifeblood of democracy.”