25th Knesset inaugurated in somber ceremony following terror attack

The terrorist attack in Ariel dampened the atmosphere ahead of the Knesset ceremony.

 Rolling out the red carpet outside Israel's Knesset building in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rolling out the red carpet outside Israel's Knesset building in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The terrorist attack on Tuesday morning near Ariel put a somber edge on the 25th Knesset’s swearing-in festivities, which culminated with the inauguration ceremony at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

The atmosphere amid the flurry of activity within the building was subdued throughout the day, and quiet background music played in its halls, due the terrorist attack on Tuesday morning, which claimed the lives of three Israelis.

A large banner welcoming guests to the ceremony adorned the main entrance to the building. Grandstands were set up in the plaza that leads to the entrance. President Isaac Herzog was initially supposed to enter the building escorted by dozens of Israel Police officers on motorcycles and horses and accompanied by the IDF marching band. However, the ceremony was moved indoors due to the weather.

The incoming MKs arrived throughout the morning and had official pictures taken alone and with their families. Hadash-Ta’al MKs Ayman Odeh and Ofer Cassif refused to have their pictures taken with the backdrop of the Israeli flag and national symbol.

Herzog entered the building at approximately 3:30 p.m. and signed the Knesset “President’s Book,” in which presidents traditionally wish the new legislature well on the day of its inauguration.

 The Knesset building, home of Israel's legislature, in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022 (Illustrative). (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) The Knesset building, home of Israel's legislature, in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022 (Illustrative). (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“Fate had us to gather here, in the Israeli Knesset, at a key moment in the history of the State of Israel,” he wrote. “Now, at the end of the fifth round of elections in less than four years, we stand before the crossroads of solidarity. We must choose our togetherness, and commit to the unity of Israel and the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”

“Such a choice does not mean unanimous agreement and unanimity,” Herzog wrote. “Not at all. But we must remember that the Knesset institution is precious and respected even more than the totality of its members, and therefore it is incumbent upon the elected officials to be extra respectful of the public and the Knesset and the manner of its discourse, maintain substantive and attentive disagreements, even if sharp and piercing, and uproot every sign of enmity.”

At exactly 4 p.m., three trumpet blasts announced the beginning of the plenum, led by Herzog, who then gave a speech.

He began by addressing the terror attack

He began by addressing the terrorist attack.

“Before I begin, I wish to address the awful terrorist attack this morning in Ariel, an attack that wounds the heart and rattles the soul, in which a depraved terrorist targeted innocents, whose only crime was wanting to lead quiet lives in their country – our country,” he said.

“Israel will continue to stand firmly and assertively, everywhere and always, against acts of terrorism and hatred that rear their heads and menace us all,” Herzog said. “On behalf of the entire Israeli people, I share the deep grief of the victims’ families and of the city of Ariel, and I pray for the health of the injured.”

“To Israel’s enemies and those who wish us ill, to those who would have us divided and weak, I wish to send this unambiguous message: you shall not succeed in rattling our might and our cohesion, not by means of threats, not through violence, not through terror, nor by means of foolish endeavors on the international stage."

President Isaac Herzog

“To Israel’s enemies and those who wish us ill, to those who would have us divided and weak, I wish to send this unambiguous message: You shall not succeed in rattling our might and our cohesion, not by means of threats, not through violence, not through terrorism, nor by means of foolish endeavors on the international stage,” he said. “Those who rise up to destroy us will always find us ready and determined, one hand clutching a weapon and the other extended in peace.”

Unity after a long, bitter period of political strife

Herzog preached unity after a long, bitter period of political strife.

“Our historical experience teaches us that every time this nation has chosen to walk down separate paths; every time a disagreement was not conducted by peaceful means; every time one side turned one way, and the other side turned another – down one path to Judah and down another to Israel – the result was unspeakably awful,” he said. “We lost our way, and we lost our home. This is all the more truer nowadays, when in the whirlwind of elections, what unites us was pushed out of sight, and what divides us stole the show.”

The people of Israel were proud of their country but “exhausted from the infighting and its fallout,” Herzog said, adding that it was the MKs’ responsibility to fix this.

“Responsibility to try to wean us off this addiction to never-ending conflicts and, if I may, off the excessive enslavement to ‘What will they write and what will they say?’ to ‘What will get more reactions, likes and shares?’ and to ‘How can we cause a social-media storm?’” he said.

“Responsibility to take a deep breath, investigate the facts and engage in careful consideration before every speech, interview or time you hit the keyboard. Responsibility to strengthen the partnership between all stripes of Israeli society, from all faiths and religions – Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christians, and Circassians, haredi and secular, traditionalist and religious; those who are finely represented in this House, and those who are less so; those who will receive the reins of power, and those who will sit on the opposition benches. Responsibility to walk arm-in-arm as we continue our collective journey,” Herzog said.

“The citizens of Israel expect you simply to work for them,” he said. “They expect you, all of you, to work for them in the committees, in the plenum and in your assorted public and parliamentary roles. They expect us, all of us, to wake up every morning and look out for them.”

Herzog also addressed the issue of the Override Clause, which a majority of the coalition wants to legislate and will give the Knesset the power to override High Court rulings.

“On this festive day, it is only proper that we recall that the power of the legislature is part of a necessary and broader system of checks and balances,” he said. “Let me underscore: Not only is change possible, there are places where change is proper and desirable. It is allowed, and sometimes even required, to reopen for debate the division of powers and authorities between the various branches of government, which balance each other.”

“But we must do so through listening, through open dialogue, through respectful discourse and fairly,” Herzog said. “This is, of course, a mission that confronts all three branches of government – legislature, executive and judiciary – which must be attentive to each other while at the same time remaining committed to our collective vision as a people and as a state.”

Then, 16-year-old Moshe Holtzberg – son of Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were killed in a terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, 14 years ago – read a chapter from Psalms. This was followed by video clips of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, reading out the Declaration of Independence.

Following this, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy read the following text: “I pledge to remain faithful to the State of Israel and fulfill my duty in the Knesset faithfully,” to which each MK answered, “I pledge.”

Levy then spoke and expressed his discontent with the opposition’s rhetoric during the outgoing Knesset.

“I have served in this house for almost a decade since I was first elected to the 19th Knesset,” he said. “I served in a series of positions, and from the experience I have gained, I can tell you with great pain: The previous Knesset was a low point in the country’s history. In its offensive and slanderous discourse, challenging the legitimacy of a government that received the Knesset’s trust and breaking all the customs and the rules of the game that this house knew.”

“Let’s manage our differences with mutual respect and matter-of-factness,” Levy said. “The high turnout in the last elections only proves that the public believes in this house and looks forward to it with hope. Despite the difficulties we witnessed in the 24th Knesset, we must not disappoint the public,” he added.

Levy will be replaced within the next week by a member of the incoming coalition.

Some members of Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am left the plenum before the singing of the national anthem. Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas remained.

Following the ceremony, the leaders of each of the parties that entered the Knesset conjoined for a traditional photograph with the four leaders representing Israel’s symbols of power: Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Levy and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.

Lapid spoke briefly before the picture was taken. He said he had prepared a speech that included criticism of the opposition about “what went on in the Knesset over the last year and a half” but decided not to say it due to the terrorist attack.

“I will just say that the 25th Knesset needs to be a place of thoughts and opinion, not a place whose whole essence is to trade insults,” he said. “We need it to be a place that the citizens of Israel look up to, not a place that they are embarrassed of and embarrassed of their representatives.”

The Knesset will convene on Wednesday to appoint Likud MK Yoav Kisch as head of the temporary Arrangements Committee, which is responsible for forming the permanent Knesset committees, beginning with the most important ones, including the Finance Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.