The swearing in of the 24th Knesset began Tuesday afternoon under the looming threat of a fifth election and just hours after President Reuven Rivlin tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the mandate to form the next coalition.
In his speech, Rivlin lamented that he has presided over six Knessets in his seven-year term. He cried while describing the divisiveness in Israeli society.
“If we will not be wise enough to find a model of partnership that will enable us to live here together in mutual respect and genuine shared commitment to each other, our national resilience will be in real danger,” he said.
The public expects leadership from its MKs, and they have not received it, Rivlin said.
“The Israeli people are looking to you and expect each one of you to show leadership that is faithful to the people and their values, but that also knows how to mark boundaries and show the way,” he said. “They deserve leadership that is confident in its path, but that sees ideological rivals not as the enemy, heaven forbid, but as potential partners.
“They need leadership that, in the atmosphere of tribalism, knows how to steer away from separatism and alienation, which may be appropriate for the campaign trail, but are destructive when it comes to building a country and leading a people.”
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin called on MKs to stop boycotting each other and warned of dangers if they do not.
But when the swearing in began, Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Sami Abou Shahadeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif said they were committed to struggling against racism instead of pledging their loyalty as MKs. They left the plenum before the singing of the national anthem “Hatikva.”
Since Shahadeh did not swear in using the generic text, Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded he be removed from the plenum because his oath was not valid.
“According to the Basic Law of the Knesset, MKs must pledge allegiance to the State of Israel,” Ben-Gvir said. “The validity of swearing in MKs from the Joint List is illegal, and we will make sure to send them to parliament in Ramallah or Gaza.”
When she was sworn in, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg shouted, “Shame.”
Ra’am (United Arab List) leader Mansour Abbas missed the ceremony because he was hospitalized at Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Poriya (near Tiberias) due to a health problem.
New Hope MK Sharren Haskel was sworn in holding her baby, Yael, who was born in October after a long, public struggle with infertility.
Following the ceremony, Levin accepted the resignation of MKs Arye Deri and Ya’acov Litzman under the Norwegian Law. They will be replaced by the next candidates on their list, former Shas MK Yosef Taieb and former UTJ MK Yaakov Tessler.
The Knesset began the process of returning to its pre-pandemic rules, allowing guests to attend the swearing-in ceremony and to sit in the visitors’ gallery for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in Israel. It was the first time the visitors’ gallery was occupied in more than a year.
Each of the 120 MKs in the 24th Knesset was allowed to invite one guest, who was permitted to take part in the special ceremonies of the day. While the rule change was intended for spouses, veteran Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern brought as his guest protest movement leader Amir Haskel.
The ceremony began with the arrival of the new MKs. Each had a flower pinned to their jacket or dress and then had their photo taken. The Knesset Guard greeted the members with an honor guard overseen by Levin.
In last year’s ceremony for the 23rd Knesset, only five MKs were allowed in the plenum at a time.
In faction meetings, the parties started revealing the bills they were submitting immediately. Blue and White and Labor will propose limiting the tenure of the prime minister and prevent indicted candidates from serving as president, prime minister or MKs. Labor, which is the first faction ever with a female majority, will also propose requiring every faction to have at least 40% of each gender.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman told his faction he would propose electoral reforms and several bills on matters of religion and state.
Hadassah Brenner contributed to this report.