Israel needs a strong Knesset, not a bloated government

Israel needs a legislature that is strong, empowered and capable of serving as an oversight body for the executive branch.

Orly Levy-Abecassis (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Orly Levy-Abecassis
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On Sunday, the 35th government of the State of Israel is scheduled to be sworn in at the Knesset. More than 30 ministers and around 16 deputy ministers are supposed to pledge allegiance to the country. One of them is Orly Levy-Abecassis, who is slated to head up a newly-invented ministry and will hold the title of “Communal Strengthening and Development Minister.”
What is that? Your guess is as good as ours. What we do know is that Levy-Abecassis, who ran with Labor and Meretz in the last election, has now officially partnered with the Likud Party and in exchange received a new ministry.
What does a new ministry mean? Beyond the title, it costs Israeli taxpayers millions of shekels a year. The budget includes office space, security guards, advisers, a car, a driver and more.
All of this money on a ministry that will probably not be around in a few years and at a time when 20% of the country’s workforce is still unemployed. On a daily basis we hear tragic stories of small businesses that are going bankrupt and of companies that are laying off more and more employees. And this is what the government needs to advance “Communal Strengthening and Development”?
This new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the biggest in Israeli history. Beyond its size though, what it also does is chip away at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. More than a third of the members of Knesset will serve as ministers or deputy ministers. This blurs the lines between the executive and the legislative branches of government.
The reason this is happening is because politicians are no longer satisfied with just being members of Knesset. They look at the parliament as a place that does not get much done, and, where beside for being allowing politicians to yell and fight, is not that important.
That needs to change. We have witnessed in recent weeks how the executive branch is trying to undermine the judicial branch – the resurgence of the Harpaz Affair to weaken Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is one recent example. Israel needs a legislature that is strong, empowered and capable of serving as an oversight body for the executive branch.
When in March the government passed a decision to activate Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) terrorist tracking tools against Israeli citizens due to the novel coronavirus, it was only brought to the Knesset for approval after Netanyahu’s interim government was ordered to do so by the Supreme Court. Had the court not intervened, a surveillance program that invades Israelis’ privacy in an unprecedented way would have gone unchecked, without oversight and with zero accountability.
There is a reason why democracies hold by a system that ensures separation of powers. It enables one branch of government to ensure that the other stays in its lane and remembers that someone is out there keeping track and following. No one branch can abuse its power. It creates accountability and helps politicians remember why they are in office – not to advance their own interests but rather the interests of the public that elected them. This prevents tyranny and enables each branch to check and balance the other.
When a third of the Knesset sits in the government these lines get blurred. When that same government attacks the country’s law enforcement agencies – the police, the attorney-general, the state prosecutor – and openly calls to undermine and weaken the judiciary, what will happen next?
For there to be proper accountability, though, work needs to be done to upgrade the Knesset. Not its infrastructure, but the way it operates and is perceived by the public. Being a Knesset member does not yield the level of respect it used to, partially the fault of the parliament, but also due to changes that have taken place in Israeli society.
For Israel’s sake, we need a strong and robust parliament, one that can ensure transparency, accountability and protect the rights of this country’s citizens, otherwise a new made-up ministry for politicians like Orly Levy-Abecassis might end up just being the least of the country’s problems.