Knesset winter session set to begin

Netanyahu, Rivlin, Livni

The Knesset itself is set to be at the center of debate when Israel's parliament begins its winter session on Monday, featuring a full schedule of committee meetings as well as speeches by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni and President Shimon Peres during the first plenum session in the afternoon. Rivlin, an outspoken proponent of maintaining the status of the legislature in Israeli political society, plans to using his speech as an opportunity to lambaste legislators for inappropriate and unparliamentary behavior. Sources close to the speaker said that his remarks, which he had already written, will call for a "fundamental change in the political discourse." "We must maintain in the strictest possible manner a minimal amount of a culture of discussion," Rivlin wrote in the speech, "and if it is necessary, stern steps should be taken to do so." He emphasized that he was not trying to impose censorship on content, but rather on style. "If the Knesset wants to renew its position in the public debate, it must develop a culture of appropriate dialogue," he said. "Have we not sinned through verbal violence?" asked the veteran MK, paraphrasing the Yom Kippur liturgy. "Have we really, innocently, allowed the Knesset to serve as a public platform? Or have we turned the discussion into unbearable altercations? Have we not reached the situation in which the Knesset is losing relevance because it is impossible to hold a serious discussion?" Rivlin was not alone in pinpointing his criticism on the legislature in which he serves. MK Dov Henin (Hadash) called on Rivlin to oversee a revamping of the Knesset's Web site, to make it more user-friendly and increase transparency. Henin criticized the fact that the MKs' personal pages on the Web site merely contain general biographic information supplied by the legislators themselves, and do not include what Henin believes to be relevant details regarding parliamentary performance, such as lists of legislation proposed by the individual politicians. "In advance of the opening of the Knesset's winter session tomorrow," said Henin, "the question of accessibility and transparency of the Knesset Web site should be part of the agenda. The Web site should be turned into a tool that will allow the voter to follow consistently the parliamentary activities of the MKs, so that the public can know what their representatives are and aren't doing." "Making the Web site more accessible is important to encourage citizens and to be involved in the democratic process," the veteran parliamentarian said. Monday also was expected to bring a number of administrative changes to the Knesset, that although less political, will certainly impact the thousands of staffers who will each spend hundreds of hours in the building before the session ends for the Pessah recess. Knesset director-general Dan Landau sent out a missive on Sunday discussing all of the changes made to the building's dining services, which were the subject of scathing probes for cleanliness during the previous session. The dining contractor was switched, the kitchens and dining rooms were renovated to meet sanitation standards and Shai Oved, an outside adviser, was brought in to accompany the process of renovating and selecting a new contractor. In addition, the Knesset added a number of food vending machines for workers and visitors. After more than two months, staff and lawmakers alike will again enjoy fully functional food services, but on the down side, MKs will no longer be offered a line of credit for food purchases. Another feature of the new session will be the dedication on Monday of a "club room" for former MKs who are visiting the building. Those wishing to wax nostalgic - or simply lobby - will be able to gather in a renovated room in the old wing of the Knesset building, to trade war stories and feel at home in their old place of employment.