MKs find ways to stay busy while lack of gov. leaves them with less to do

Political Affairs: A ghost town full of restless spirits

THE KNESSET – lawmakers have different ways of expressing their frustration over the coalition crisis (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE KNESSET – lawmakers have different ways of expressing their frustration over the coalition crisis
MKs looked for ways to keep themselves busy while the lack of a government leaves the Knesset with far less to do than usual
‘My wife is in an advanced stage of pregnancy, seven months,” Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir said, in his inaugural speech to the Knesset on Monday, about actress Maya Wertheimer of Shababnikim and a couple of children’s shows, who is a granddaughter of billionaire industrialist Stef Wertheimer.
Wertheimer the actress has an immensely popular Instagram account, which came onto the political radar when she documented both of the Knesset inaugurations she attended with her husband this year.
Looking at her posts and stories, one quickly finds out that both she and Zamir are quite funny. For example, on the day of the Knesset inauguration, Zamir, former deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, posted a photograph of himself in a suit with the caption: “I would buy a car from me.” Or he posted a photo of himself next to the much taller Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and compared it to the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Danny DeVito film Twins.
Zamir’s first speech to the Knesset went straight onto Wertheimer’s Instagram account, of course, as well as other social media, and it went viral because a two-minute chunk of it felt more like a stand-up comedy routine than a typical political speech.
As one might guess about an actress, Wertheimer has a flair for the dramatic. So, Zamir said: “I want a regular name” – he specified on KAN Bet on Thursday that he was thinking of something like Yael or Tamar – “and she wants a not-regular one. It doesn’t matter what I want, because in the end, the baby will be born, she’ll hold her in her hands, they’ll both cry, and she’ll look at me and say ‘I feel like her name is Izmel’” – the Hebrew word for chisel.”
“I imagine a conversation, years from now, when I explain to her why her father was sworn in to the 21st Knesset, I gave my inaugural speech in the 22nd Knesset, and maybe in the 23rd, we’ll swear in a government. She’ll say ‘Why, Abba?’ ‘There was a bloc... a group of people who united not to compromise on anything, even if it meant a third election.’ ‘I don’t understand why.’ ‘I don’t either. There were also indictments... of all kinds of people who needed to avoid forming a government to stay out of jail,’” Zamir said.
“She’ll say, ‘Abba, that’s insane.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s insane? Your name is Izmel!’” Zamir concluded, and was met with laughter in the plenum.
But as Zamir himself said, he hopes not to ever have that conversation with his future daughter. He spoke of finding that most of his new colleagues are serious people who care about Israel and want to help its people.
The Knesset was inaugurated in September, and, theoretically, it can act independently of the government, which has yet to be pieced together. In practice, though, just about all the Knesset can do is provide temporary fixes, like approve transfers of funds from one place to another in lieu of a real budget, and only in areas in consensus. Because there is no coalition and opposition, there’s no official position of either side on any bills proposed, and no one to whip votes. So the Knesset Arrangements Committee isn’t even putting bills on the agenda.
There are also motions to the agenda and parliamentary questions – basically both speeches to which a minister or deputy minister must respond. But bills are what usually get the most attention, and are viewed as the most effective tool.
Most of the committee rooms are not in use, because there are only three functioning committees: Arrangements – which takes the place of the House Committee until there is a coalition – Finance, and Foreign Affairs and Defense. While most non-minister MK are normally assigned to multiple committees, an MK is lucky if he or she gets on one these days.
When the committees aren’t functioning in full force, or not at all in most cases, there are far fewer visitors to the Knesset. There are no student groups making their case to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee or professional organizations to promote or fight regulations in the Knesset Education Committee.
Therefore, the Knesset was certainly emptier than usual this week. The situation gave the legislature the feel of a ghost town – albeit one full of restless spirits.
ALMOST THE entire Knesset is frustrated by the political paralysis caused by stalled coalition talks, but the lawmakers have different ways of expressing it.
In Blue and White, one MK grumbled to The Jerusalem Post this week that he is doing nothing, and any appearance of being busy is really a smoke screen. He said he “didn’t connect” to the idea of submitting motions to the agenda and parliamentary questions, dismissing them as all talk.
But another lawmaker in the faction, Zvi Hauser, came through with a flurry of activity, despite the situation. Hauser is a former cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so he is more familiar than most with the inner workings of the government and Knesset, and found his own ways to fill his time. He is a member of the Arrangements Committee. He proposed a motion to the agenda resulting in the Knesset’s first discussion of the crisis the Kurds have faced since the US abandoned northern Syria, and he’s still looking for more things to do. A whiteboard in Hauser’s office featured a list of possible caucuses he would like to establish, like one for the Golan Heights and another for preserving historical sites.
MKs have proposed hundreds of bills, even though there won’t be a vote anytime soon.
Democratic Union MK Tamar Zandberg submitted one to dissolve the Knesset and call an election, “in case we need it,” she said.
One bill that received a lot of attention was MK Sharren Haskel’s proposal to annex the Jordan Valley, and Yamina’s bill to annex that area as well as Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim.
A Likud MK rolled her eyes at the full-page treatment Haskel’s bill got in Yediot Aharonot: “Everyone who understands how things work here knows nothing is moving. It’s futile.”
Another matter that received more attention than it normally would have was the election for Likud faction chairman. MKs Miki Zohar and Yoav Kisch ran against each other for the position, which, like so much else, is mostly meaningless until there is a coalition and opposition. Netanyahu didn’t openly endorse either, but sources in the Likud whispered that he preferred Zohar, a close ally in the past couple of years. Zohar won, and Kisch felt betrayed by Netanyahu, who promised not to back anyone.
It was a political intrigue that lasted for less than 24 hours but occupied many lines of copy in the media and many minutes of radio airtime, because there just isn’t that much going on. After all, with coalition talks seemingly going nowhere, MKs aren’t the only ones looking for something to do. The reporters following them around all day needed to occupy themselves, as well.