Happy 65th birthday, Knesset!

Until the end of 1949 the meetings of the Provisional State Council were held at the Tel Aviv Museum, the Kessem Cinema and the San Remo Hotel in the White City.

Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

The name Knesset derives from the Knesset Hagadol (the Great Assembly) which convened in Jerusalem after the return of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael from the Babylonian exile in the fifth century BCE.

The number of Knesset members was also determined by the number of members of the Great Assembly. The traditions of the Knesset and the way it functions were influenced by the Zionist Congress, which first convened in Basel in 1897, by the experience of the Assembly of Representatives of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine and – to a certain extent – by the procedures and customs of the British Parliament, considered the “mother” of all parliaments.
On April 18, 1948, a bare month before the proclamation of the state, the People’s Council was established. On May 14, the day the State of Israel came into existence, this was turned into the Provisional State Council, until elections for the Constituent Assembly were held.
Until the end of 1949 the meetings of the Provisional State Council were held at the Tel Aviv Museum, the Kessem Cinema and the San Remo Hotel in the White City.
On December 26, 1949, the Knesset moved to its temporary residence in Beit Frumin on King George Avenue in Jerusalem. It was housed there until August 31, 1966, when it moved to its permanent residence at Kiryat Ben-Gurion.
The Knesset is the house of representatives of the State of Israel. It is unicameral and has 120 members representing numerous lists that are elected in general elections every four years.
The hall in which the meetings of the Knesset plenum take place is divided into two parts: the lower, where members of Knesset and the government sit, and the upper, which consists of the visitors’ galleries.
In the plenum hall, Knesset members sit according to their parliamentary groupings. The seating arrangements are determined by the Arrangements Committee before the first sitting of every new Knesset following elections. Customarily, the committee enables the largest parliamentary group to choose its place in the hall.
The largest coalition faction usually sits to the left of the Speaker, with the second largest to the right. The seat assigned to a Knesset member is permanent for the duration of that Knesset, and seats are electronically labeled with members’ names.
The Knesset Speaker sits in the center of the dais while directing a plenum sitting. To the left of the Speaker sits the secretary-general of the Knesset and the sergeant-at-arms. To the right of the Speaker is the podium for the person addressing the plenum.
The seats for the Knesset members are arranged in the shape of a menorah.
The center table, shaped like a horseshoe, is reserved for the members of the government. At the center of the head of the table sits the prime minister. On the sides of the plenum hall are six cubicles for parliamentary aids, committee and faction secretaries, advisors and upper-level Knesset staff.
By each Knesset member’s seat is a copy of the Knesset Rules of Procedure. In addition, there is a computer terminal displaying the daily agenda and any background material relevant for that day’s sitting. That same terminal is used for electronic voting in the plenum: When a vote is called, the MK can select from the “For,” “Against” or “Abstain” buttons on the touch screen. Immediately following a vote, the results are displayed on two large screens hanging from the ceiling of the plenum hall.
The upper balcony in the plenum hall is divided into two parts by a large sheet of bullet-proof glass. The lower portion, which is open within the hall, is reserved for VIPs and invited guests. This section includes an area at the left corner earmarked for the president and entourage, and another at the right side for the press. The upper area behind the glass is the public gallery – open to the public.
The Knesset plenum meets on Mondays and Tuesdays at 4 p.m., and Wednesdays at 11 a.m. except during the summer and Passover recesses.
The wall at the front of the hall was designed by artist Danny Caravan (born 1930) and is made of Galilee stone, with the engraved designs representing various aspects of Jerusalem. On the left of the front wall hangs a portrait of visionary Theodor Herzl, engraved in zinc. In the center, behind the Knesset speaker, stands the flag of the State of Israel. – Jerusalem Post staff and knesset.gov.il •