COVID, snow and a slumbering Knesset - the week that was

The great disgrace in the Knesset last week was the session on Wednesday, January 26, to honor the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was attended by only two ministers and 12 MKs.

Labor party MK Emilie Moatti arrives to a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on April 26, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Labor party MK Emilie Moatti arrives to a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on April 26, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

For me, personally, this has been a rather strange week. For the first time in several years I caught the flu, or some other seasonal viral disease for which the symptoms are similar to those of the coronavirus. For the first time since the coronavirus appeared, I took a PCR test (result negative), and was to have a second one last Friday, but because of the snow in Jerusalem and a fever, I called up my Meuhedet health fund to ask whether someone could come to my home to do the test. 

To my great surprise the answer was positive, and while I waited on the line the person I was talking to called up Magen David Adom, which promised to arrive within 48 hours. I was impressed with the efficiency and politeness, and the fact that this service is free. I assume that it has to do with my age group. And incidentally: someone from MDA turned up after 32 hours.

My neighbors also surprised me. At least three neighbors offered to shop for me, and I had two offers of soup. I am used to being independent, and replied that I had already made an online order with Shufersal, and that a large pot of chicken soup was cooking on the stove. Yet it was nice to find out that the people around me care enough to offer assistance – I know that not all elderly persons living on their own have effective support systems of this sort.

I managed to get a glimpse of the snow on Thursday morning from my front veranda, which overlooks the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens on Givat Ram. It was a magnificent sight, marred only by the knowledge that whenever it snows in Jerusalem, many of the trees that originate in regions where there is no snow – of which there are quite a few in the Botanical Gardens – are damaged. 

This year was no exception, and many trees were broken, providing the Botanical Garden’s devoted team with plenty of extra clearance work.

 President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal playing in the snow, January 27, 2022.  (credit:  ALON HACHMON/MAARIV) President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal playing in the snow, January 27, 2022. (credit: ALON HACHMON/MAARIV)

LAST WEEK was a relatively calm week in the Knesset. The weather, and the fact that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu did not turn up at all the entire week (he was still busy with the remains of his plea bargain), were undoubtedly partially responsible for the relative calm. 

Also, the absence of MK David Amsalem (Likud) from the plenum most of the time helped reduce the flames, even though he turned up on January 24, to attack Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, whom he accused of being totally worthless, and of allotting money to transgenders and refugees from Darfur but not for sufficient corona test kits for Israeli citizens. 

This performance by Amsalem, from whom one expects nothing but scandalous, libelous personal attacks on members of the coalition, was particularly strange because on January 14 he had informed the Knesset sergeant-at-arms that he had been found positive to the coronavirus. Since Amsalem suffers from a chronic health condition, it seems strange that he was out and about 10 days later.

The most positive happening in the plenum was the assumption by MK Emilie Moatti (Labor) to the role of deputy speaker (there are usually up to nine such deputies). Moatti, who is of Mizrahi origin, is also one of the best-liked members among the MKs in the current Knesset. 

She is as concerned about the status of Mizrahim (descendants of local Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa) in Israel as her colleagues in the Likud, but unlike them speaks gently and with restraint, even when she has harsh things to say. 

She was welcomed to her new role most warmly by no other than MK Orit Struck (Religious Zionist Party), who is one of the most outspoken critics of the coalition (recently Prime Minister Naftali Bennett actually shouted at her “get out of my sight”, during an incident in the plenum). 

Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) was another MK who doesn’t mince words when he speaks of the coalition, but also warmly welcomed Moatti in her new role, using the opportunity to express his appreciation for another coalition deputy speaker – Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White). 

The great disgrace in the Knesset last week was the session on Wednesday, January 26, to honor the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was attended by only two ministers, and another 12 MKs, of whom three were Arabs. These numbers were mentioned by no other than MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), who spoke on the occasion. The following day Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy gave a highly emotional speech, in Hebrew, to a full chamber of the Bundestag in Berlin.

Finally, last week the government’s decision to do away with the compulsory quarantine of schoolchildren who came into contact with a verified coronavirus carrier, to be replaced by twice weekly antigen home tests, resulted in an extreme reaction by the head of the Teachers Union, Yaffa Ben-David, who called for a teachers’ strike. She argued that the new regulations did not take the health of the teachers into account. The strike was not approved by the Labor Court.

No doubt, a problem does exist, and a balance must be struck between what is good for the children, and what is good for the teachers. But Ben-David failed to mention the children altogether, and this fact, plus her very harsh demeanor, has led me to the conclusion that she ought to represent someone like the Ashdod port stevedores – not those who are in charge of our children’s and grandchildren’s education, and certainly not in the very difficult state of affairs in the education system these days.

All in a week.

The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, to be published in English by Routledge.