Rivlin: A disappointing session

Knesset speaker has seen good and bad parliaments in his 2 decades.

BaladMKHaneenZoabi311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has seen good sessions and bad ones in his two decades in the Knesset, and so he can speak from a position of experience in characterizing the summer session, which concluded Wednesday, as a “disappointment.”
“The initial constitution of this Knesset was very promising and thus, reflecting back, I can only express disappointment,” Rivlin said in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post Thursday.
“Great people who came here with strong records ‘learned’ how to work in the Knesset and came to the conclusion that to stand out, steady legislative work over time wasn’t enough and they needed to turn to gimmicks instead.
“That was even more true for MKs who before they were elected – and even afterward – nobody heard of and nobody knew were here. They too came to the conclusion that their only recourse was to initiate gimmicks and sensational headlines.”
The Knesset, said Rivlin, is contending with “developing tensions that have been boiling for 50 years now,” most importantly relations between Jews and Arabs and the growing gaps between rich and poor throughout the country.
“The first issue is naturally very emotional and there are outbursts in which Jewish and Arab MKs use the conflict for personal gain at the expense of the national good. MKs on either side gain political currency at their opponents’ expense, and the only one that this does not serve is the country itself.”
The way in which the arguments between Jews and Arabs are played out within the Knesset, said Rivlin, is crucial in determining Israel’s status in the world, as well as shaping political developments throughout the Middle East. “There are things that we will never agree upon, but we must show that we can overcome the conflict while maintaining an Israel that is both a Jewish and democratic state.”
Increased tensions between Jewish and Arab Israelis, said Rivlin, will only increase the international sense of legitimacy for pan-Islamic and fundamentalist movements that call for Israel’s destruction.
“With all due respect, the burden of maintaining this relationship lies upon the majority and if it doesn’t take the situation into its hands and understand its role, we have failed,” he explained. “I am not just talking about grabbing headlines through foul language or personal hits below the belt, but also the use of exaggerated nationalism for personal gain.”
Rivlin cited, in addition to the heated debates that characterized the session, a series of bills that were, in his eyes, designed to make more of a political statement and to bypass the role of the government rather than to strengthen the political system.
He spared none of his famously sharp tone in addressing the specific issue of MK Haneen Zoabi, whose participation in the May Gaza flotilla grabbed headlines for most of the legislative session.
“The Zoabi affair was an error in two senses. The first was on principle; there cannot be a situation in which MKs judge their colleagues and rule on their cases. If such a thing existed – not on an ethical level, 61 would cancel out 59 and then the 120 would become 61, and then they would continue to break and divide until the legislature consisted of two people,” Rivlin complained. “On a personal level, Zoabi’s behavior made my blood boil, but it is exactly in situations such as those in which the strength of our democratic values are tested.”
The second error, he said, was a tactical one on the part of Zoabi’s parliamentary opponents. “Before this session, nobody had a clue who she was. She was completely anonymous.
Now wherever she goes, she is now an internationally recognized figure.”
Looking forward, Rivlin does not see quieter days ahead for the Knesset – or for Israel.
“Overdoing is never good, but now, if it garners support in the eyes of your voters, the impact of the matter to the country is less important,” he bemoaned. “That is the dominant trend and has come to fruition fully in the current government.”
The next test for the Knesset, he said, was likely to come before the end of the recess, when the partial building moratorium in West Bank settlements comes to an end on the September 26. “The day falls in the middle of Succot, a great time of celebration for the Jewish people.
On that day, the freeze order expires, and anyone who wants a new one must request it from the government and it will not be so easy to convince them this time around. Such a request will bring us to a new situation in which Likud itself will be tested and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also be tested by factions that are to the right of the Likud.”