'Star' legislators bid Knesset farewell

NU-NRP MKs Shaul Yahalom and Gila Finkelstein failed to place high enough on their party's list to earn Knesset spots.

Two of the three legislators characterized by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin as the "stars" of the 16th Knesset will not be returning to their positions. NU-NRP MKs Shaul Yahalom and Gila Finkelstein both failed to place high enough on their party's list to earn spots in the next Knesset. They will join some 40 MKs who will not be returning when the new Knesset meets on April 17. Rivlin has called the outgoing Knesset "the worst parliament ever," but many are concerned over the loss of veteran MKs. "Political life is very disappointing. Many of the people who will not be returning are dear friends," said Rivlin. "Unfortunately, in Israel, people vote for lists, not individuals," he said. Yahalom and Finkelstein were awarded the title of "best legislators" after each brought 14 bills through second and third readings to become law. MK Ehud Rassabi (Shinui), who succeeded in getting 11 new laws passed, the third highest of any legislator, will also not be returning to the Knesset. "We'll just have to hope that some of the new faces can replace the dear old ones who did so much during their time in the Knesset," said a Knesset spokesman. Other departing MKs include Abdul Malik Dahamshe (United Arab List), who delivered 553 speeches and submitted 85 parliamentary inquiries during the last Knesset, to become its "most talkative" member, and Uzi Landau, who led the Likud rebels and ran for his party's chairmanship on a right-wing platform. Former Prisoner of Zion Yuli Edelstein (Likud) will also be leaving the legislature. Four-term National Religious Party MK Yahalom, 58, has championed social and children's welfare. "That's politics," said Yahalom, who passed the highest number of bills in the most recent Knesset session. During his 14 years in the Knesset, Yahalom said, he successfully sponsored 60 laws and cosponsored another 100. He said he was particularly proud of his work in helping pass the Equal Accessibility Law last year. He played many roles during his time in the legislature, including chairing the Knesset's Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, and the Committee on Labor, Social Affairs and Health. He also served on the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, and as transportation minister and deputy minister of education. Yahalom also worked to insure that most of the television programs in Israel were accessible to the hearing-impaired through the use of subtitles. Organizations working for the disabled were so concerned that Yahalom might not make it back into the Knesset that they changed their traditional apolitical stance and endorsed him during the election. In 1972, he had helped create the National Service, which allowed religious girls to spend two years contributing to the state without joining the army. Yahalom served as the NRP's political secretary from 1987 to 1995. A resident of Elkana in Samaria, Yahalom has four children and six grandchildren. Outside of spending time with his family, Yahalom said he did not know what his future would hold or if he would make a run for the 18th Knesset. "It's been less than 24 hours," he said, since he had heard the news that he was not returning to the Knesset. Yahalom placed 5th in the NRP internal party elections. When the NRP joined forces with the National Union, he was moved down to No. 11 on the list. The National Union-National Religious Party received only nine mandates in Tuesday's election, thereby knocking him out of office. Finkelstein, who placed third on the internal party list and 10th on the combined NU-NRP list, held out hope to the end that she would head to the 17th Knesset for her second term. She and the party were optimistic that votes from the soldiers would hand the NU-NRP another mandate, securing Finkelstein's seat. But Thursday night's final tally brought no such good news. Finkelstein was elected to the outgoing Knesset in a slot reserved for a female politician, making her the NRP's first woman MK since Tova Sanhedrai in the 1960s. The NRP reserved its No. 5 spot for a female candidate in its recent primary, but it turned out that Finkelstein didn't need it. She placed third due to her own popularity within the party, something in which she takes great pride. "It was a huge success, we celebrated," she said. Now she felt as if she had been pushed aside. She said she had not begun to consider what she would do next. Since the election, she has received phone calls from teachers and former students wanting to know if she was returning to her post as the principal of Zeitlin High School in Tel Aviv. Landau has served in the Knesset for 22 years, including two stints in the cabinet. He ran against current party head Binyamin Netanyahu for the Likud chairmanship but quit the race after polls indicated that under his leadership the party might win only 15 seats - ironically more than it actually secured. Landau said he was more concerned about the fate of the nation and the Likud than for his own political future. "I had a successful career as an engineer before I entered politics and I was able to gain every post I was interested in except for prime minister and defense minister, so don't worry about me," he said.