Knesset summer session short on committee heads

Large government means plenum seats are empty, although parliamentary parking spots are at a premium.

knesset plenum 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
knesset plenum 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset's opening session Monday was marked by strident speeches against the budget and more than the usual opening-session maneuvering as the legislature sought ways to cope - both logistically and legislatively - with the largest government in the country's history. With 30 of the Knesset's 120 members serving as ministers and several others as deputy ministers, the Knesset House Committee confirmed that it was short enough members to fill all the available committee seats. As a result, the committee voted Monday morning to reduce the number of members on each committee, so as to reduce the number of committees that each MK will have to participate in. The coalition feared that with the number of ministers and deputy ministers among coalition members, the coalition would be in the minority in key committees. Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin argued in the House Committee meeting - which he chaired - that the change would also improve the extremely - and at times embarrassingly - low levels of attendance at committee hearings. MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), who previously held Elkin's position, argued that "This isn't a problem with the Knesset and its order. The problem is that this government is brutally raping the Knesset and is preventing it from fully functioning." Yet despite vocal protests by Kadima members, the lead opposition party ultimately voted in favor of the proposed change. One Kadima official suggested that this last-minute about face might be related to the decision to allow Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi to remain chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Others, however, suggested that the unconventional decision to allow a member of the opposition to head such an important committee was simply another symptom of the overly large government. Committee chairmanships are frequently offered as consolation prizes to high-ranking coalition members who did not receive ministries, but in this case, over 50 percent of coalition MKs have government posts. The opposition usually holds the Economic Affairs Committee, but that committee chairmanship was traded for the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee after no Labor MK agreed to chair the latter committee. MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), who was reportedly one of those offered the prestigious chairmanship, continued his opposition within the coalition, as the only coalition member to vote against the smaller committee sizes. Likud freshmen relatively low on their party's list were named to chair prestigious committees, such as the Women's Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee. MK Miri Regev is the only Likud representative likely to hold no special position other than membership on a number of committees. MK Said Nafa (Balad) said that his faction would not sit on any committees, to protest the House Committee's vote to reduce the number of MKs in each committee. And it was not just on the legislative front that the large government forced a change in the usual arrangements. The seating plan in the plenum had to be rearranged, as a double table replaced the inner circle once reserved for ministers. In the mean time, the Knesset seats will now look emptier than ever, as one-fourth of those meant to be sitting on the floor now have seats at the cabinet table. The scene at the Knesset Visitor and Access Department was also chaotic, as long-time staffers struggled to find parking spaces for the ministers' assistants. Each minister and deputy minister is entitled to at least two spaces - one for the minister and one for a staff member, which meant that 80 parking spaces must be allocated.