Analysis: Why would anyone want more MKs? Here's why

Yes, there are already 120 MKs, but not all are available as full-time parliamentarians.

knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Why would anyone in their right mind consider enlarging the number of MKs? Not only would the added MKs cost the country more money, but in the current atmosphere - in which "politician =corruption" - this would be adding insult to injury. This is precisely why an objective, academic approach to this topic is needed, and this clearly points us in a direction contrary to public sentiment. Not only does the Knesset need to be enlarged, we need to double its size, or even more. The Knesset's plenary, despite being the focus of the media, is not the Knesset at work - it is a theater that projects more or less drama depending on the situation. The workhorses of the Knesset are its committees, and this is true for every democratic parliament. The committees are where legislation is deliberated and amended. They are where government officials are questioned about their policies and held accountable. But the committees in the Knesset have practically ceased to function. Yes, there are 120 MKs, but not all are available as full-time parliamentarians. Approximately 25 must be removed because they are either ministers or deputy ministers. This leaves only 95 MKs to serve in the committees. The Knesset's Rules of Procedure state that the governing coalition, which holds the majority in the plenary, must have a similar majority in each committee. Herein lies the crux of the problem, because it is the coalition, which typically in Israel has 65-70 MKs, from which all the ministers and deputy ministers are taken, thus reducing its available MKs to about 40. Currently, there are 12 permanent Knesset committees (plus many temporary ones), which have 15-17 members each. The total number of committee positions is thus about 190, double the number of available MKs. This means that each MK must serve on at least two committees, and this is not necessarily bad. But it is the coalition MKs, only 40 in number, who must make up the majority of the 190 committee positions - which means that each of them must serve on three committees. Moreover, many MKs in the coalition hold positions that preclude them from doing much beyond their assigned role (speaker, all of the committee chairs). In short, a "backbench" MK belonging to one of the parties in the coalition needs to serve on five to six committees - and this is impossible. The committees meet simultaneously, and politicians are human - and thus cannot be in five or six places at the same time. The so-called "Norwegian Law," which forces ministers to resign from the Knesset, would alleviate some of the problem by adding "regular" MKs to the ranks of the coalition. However, coalition MKs would still have to serve on four committees, which would not help the committees function better. In order to improve the work of the Knesset, we must not only enact the "Norwegian Law," but also expand the Knesset so that we come closer to what is acceptable in unicameral Western democracies. Israel has one of the smaller legislatures in the world - and in comparison to the size of our population, it is the smallest. If we are not getting what we pay for from our politicians, do we think that by demanding more, we will - indeed - get more? Does that work in any other aspect of our lives? In order to get a better product, we have to pay for it. If we continue to demand too much from our politicians, due to institutional constraints rather than their personal frailties, we should not be surprised that they cannot deliver. Reuven Y. Hazan is a Professor in the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Reforming Parliamentary Committees: Israel in Comparative Perspective.