Knesset newbies learn the dos and don'ts of the House

Incoming legislators briefed on dress code but many skip lecture on ethics.

Newly elected MKs 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Newly elected MKs 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It may be a while before the 31 new MKs get their first opportunity to address the Knesset plenum, or even find their assigned seat on the floor, but on Thursday at least they had the opportunity to look around their new digs. The mood seemed a bit like a college orientation day, with the soon-to-be MKs wearing name tags milling about around refreshments at break time, some meeting their future coworkers for the first time and others catching up with old friends who now represent rival parties. Parliamentary correspondents, newly-minted spokespeople and unemployed Knesset hacks looking for possible employment with the incoming class rounded off the guest list at the event. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who - following Kadima's announcement that it plans to retreat to the opposition - is likely to leave her post after next Tuesday's official opening of the 18th Knesset, greeted the incoming class with remarks in which she spoke almost sentimentally about her love for the legislative institution. "There is an adrenaline here that there isn't in any other place in the world," said Itzik. She expressed her hope that the new members would appreciate and enjoy the work carried out. But Itzik's address was not all about appreciation for the Knesset. In tones recalling her pedagogic past, Itzik discussed the importance of the House dress code, one of her contributions during her tenure as speaker, and emphasized that MKs should be aware of the cameras filming them in almost every part of the building. She also warned them to beware of the press, and to keep in mind that, despite her attempts to restrict entrance to the MKs' dining room, the area was trolled by journalists seeking headlines. "Keep in mind that whatever you say can be used," she reminded them. "There's no such thing as 'I didn't mean that seriously' or 'just between you and me'." Both Itzik and the Knesset's most senior member, Michael Eitan, encouraged incoming MKs to frequently attend plenum sessions, both in order to gain experience as well as in light of public criticism of low attendance during debates and even key votes on the floor. "The public does not like to see empty seats," Itzik admonished the newcomers. But empty seats were already visible by the early afternoon, as some of the newcomers drifted away from the lecture hall. After attending the morning sessions, and even taking notes, incoming Likud MK and former IDF chief of general staff Moshe Ya'alon disappeared. By the second half of the day - the part that contained the lecture on ethics - a full third of the seats reserved for new MKs were empty. Some of the fresh faces, including ex-general Yossi Peled (Likud) and former reporter Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor), demonstrated a marked familiarity with the building, chatting with Knesset staff and reporters. But even for those familiar with the building, many uncertainties remain. Without a coalition agreement, the seating arrangement in the plenum has yet to be determined, and with the two biggest parties bickering over the largest room, even the factions' offices are still unclear. Individual offices in the new wing have not yet been assigned to the incoming class. Nevertheless the new MKs were taken on a tour of the maze-like building, including the locations of MKs' offices and the committee rooms. In addition to the tour, the incoming MKs will faced a five-hour battery of lectures on topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of the legislative process to the services offered by the Knesset Research Department.