Bill moves to preserve Knesset's first home, Beit Frumin

"Beit Frumin is one of the key points in the formation of the State of Israel," says Education committee chairman Michael Melchior.

beit frumin 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
beit frumin 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It weathered stormy debates, a grenade attack and even the eager eyes of a developer, but now, thanks to a bill advancing through the Knesset Tuesday, Beit Frumin - the building that housed the first Knesset - might finally enjoy a privileged status as a preserved historical site and a museum. A bill to preserve the building, located at 24 King George St. in downtown Jerusalem, passed its second and third readings in the Education Committee, a process that would necessitate returning the building to public ownership after it was purchased by a private investor. "Beit Frumin is one of the key points in the formation of the State of Israel," said committee chairman Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad). "We must develop and take care of it for the sake of future generations. I call upon the government to support this bill and to correct the historical error brought about by the sale of this building." The sale of the building caused a massive public outcry, and discussions began being held to decide other options for the run-down offices. The bill now proposes that the building undergo extensive renovations and receive protection as a historical edifice. In addition, it will be re-zoned to allow it to house a museum documenting the history of the Knesset. "In light of the historical, national, cultural and educational significance of the site, it has been proposed for historical preservation, and to establish in it a public museum of the Knesset and its activities, that will also serve as an educational center to instill values of democracy and the rule of law," reads the introduction of the law that would preserve the building. The Finance Ministry is currently in negotiations with the investors to reimburse them for the losses suffered by the building's re-zoning for museum status. Beit Frumin served as the Knesset's home for 16 years, between 1950-1966, and in it met the first through fifth Knessets. The building was the site of the legislation of the first series of Basic Laws, including Basic Law: The Knesset; Basic Law: Israel Lands; and Basic Law: President of the State. In addition, the building was the site of the legislation of some of the best-known laws in Israel, including the Law of Return. In the plenum hall, at the north side of the building, then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion addressed the parliament, and it was the site of fiery debates between the "Old Man" and Herut leader Menachem Begin on topics including the issue of German restitution for the Holocaust. The lower floor of the building housed the cabinet meeting room and the top floor was reserved for Knesset offices. On October 29, 1957, a grenade was thrown from nearby Rehov Be'eri into the plenum, seriously wounding then-religious affairs minister Moshe Shapira and lightly wounding MKs Golda Meir, Moshe Carmel, and Ben-Gurion himself. After the Knesset moved into its permanent lodgings in the government area, the historic building was used by the Tourism Ministry, and many of its most famous rooms - including the plenum hall - were destroyed and divided up into smaller offices.