Reporter's Notebook: Waiting for Godot in the Knesset

“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful,” writes Samuel Beckett. The same sentiment applied on Wednesday, when Knesset reporters waited in vain for protesting African migrants to be allowed into the building.

African migrants protest in front of the Knesset, January 8, 2014. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
African migrants protest in front of the Knesset, January 8, 2014.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
“Don’t leave, you’ll miss all the excitement,” a writer from Ma’ariv advised me.
It was five minutes after a group of eight migrants from Sudan and Eritrea along with the four MKs who invited them were supposed to arrive in the Knesset’s dingiest, oldest conference room. And the only people there were five reporters, about a dozen cameramen and one parliamentary aide who had no idea what was going to happen.
People are just running late, I thought optimistically and stayed put.
The Ma’ariv writer has been reporting on the Knesset for decades, and he usually knows what he’s talking about.
Earlier that day I sat in traffic caused by the migrants’ protest in the Wohl Rose Garden outside the Knesset, which turned the five-minute drive from Mevaseret to Jerusalem into an hour-long one. Frustrated that I was running late, I received a text-message with the information that Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein not to let the migrants into the building.
Two hours later – as we reporters sat in a row against the wall of the conference room, typing impatiently on our smartphones – Regev’s request loomed large.
The four MKs were trying to convince Edelstein – who never gave an answer about letting the migrants enter in the first place – to ignore Regev, and if that didn’t work, they were going to appeal to Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon.
What’s the status? we asked the one parliamentary aide in the room.
“I don’t know, the refugees are waiting in the security booth,” she responded, referring to the Africans who crossed the southern border into Israel by the Left’s favorite generalization.
Yisrael Beytenu backbencher MK Shimon Ohayon – or his shrewd spokesman – saw an opportunity to get some media attention and sauntered in front of the cameras.
“It would be absurd for the Knesset, which passed a law to put infiltrators in a holding facility, to allow them to enter. The Knesset speaker should keep the infiltrators out,” Ohayon said emphatically, using the Right’s pet name for migrants.
His spokesman scurried over to the bored reporters – “Did you catch that? Did you hear him? Want to write about it? I’ll text you what he said,” – and all of our phones buzzed.
Several snarky tweets later, I poked my head out of the room and spotted Labor MK Merav Michaeli and asked her, in Hebrew, for an update.
“We’re waiting for an answer,” she responded in the feminine, as is her wont, though “we” included males.
I approached the security guard posted outside the conference room door and asked if the migrants were really waiting inside the security booth. He didn’t know, but advised me that there’s no chance they’ll be allowed in. I reported my findings to the others.
“Don’t leave, the MKs are going to come and talk,” the parliamentary aide pleaded.
I sat next to grumbling reporters from Haaretz, Ma’ariv and Israel Hayom.
“We’re waiting for Godot,” I lamented, and the Israel Hayom reporter chuckled.
To pass the time, I Googled Samuel Beckett’s play and found the perfect quote: “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
Also, “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
A Russian-language TV news reporter approached me and said, “It’s all over, Yuli isn’t letting them in.”
“Are you sure, can I report that?” I asked her.
“I’m not sure if it’s on record; it was just a phone conversation in Russian,” she shrugged and left.
Finally, 45 minutes after waiting for nothing to happen, the Knesset members walked in and, simultaneously, Edelstein sent a message saying he’s barring the migrants from the building in light of “tension and the general public atmosphere.”
“The entry of infiltrators to the Knesset may cause a provocation and bring violence and disorder,” Edelstein’s spokesman wrote, adding that the head of Knesset security advised him to bar the migrants.
In the end, instead of migrants, all we got was a press conference of MKs debating whether or not Edelstein did the right thing.
“Israeli citizens should know that next time they want to protest, they may not be allowed in to the Knesset,” Michaeli warned, this time in the feminine and the masculine.
“Dialogue isn’t the danger, it’s the solution,” Hadash MK Dov Henin intoned. “There is no democracy without arguments.”
Inserting some drama into the lackluster event, Meretz MK Michal Rozin declared: “The government is lying. Don’t let them fool you!”
On the Right, MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) said she showed up because she thought she’d get to meet migrants and explain to them why they should leave Israel.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking to them,” Shaked said.
MK Shimon Ohayon of Yisrael Beytenu, seeing another chance for exposure, sidled up to the table and put in his two cents: “Edelstein did the right thing.”
Then, the press folded their cameras and laptops and left, without getting what they came for.