Since former prime minister Naftali Bennett announced his decision to dissolve the Knesset and to hand over the premiership to Yair Lapid two weeks ago, there have been both positive and negative events involving the Knesset and its members.
Among the positive events have been agreements between the coalition and the opposition to pass, in second and third readings, a relatively large number of bills proposed by the government and MKs from the coalition and the opposition before the dissolution.
Particularly exciting was the passing of the law that promises to assist persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible once they are adults, which occurred last Monday.
The law was presented by Social Services Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), and warmly supported by Lapid, who has an adult autistic daughter, of whom he speaks a lot, and Yoav Kisch (Likud), who lost his 13-year-old disabled son six years ago.
The whole process of passing the law was accompanied by many emotional scenes of cooperation and sympathy, which have become extremely rare in the last year in the Knesset corridors. One of the most emotional scenes was of Kisch very close to tears during an interview about the law, and Cohen putting his arms around Kisch’s shoulders, in an attempt to comfort him.
WHAT WAS less pleasant was the petty politics that was occasionally involved, such as the Likud’s refusal to pass the metro bill and various provisions designed to enable Israeli citizens to travel to the US without visas, unless Yamina would agree to reverse the decision regarding the status of MK Amichai Chikli. Placing the personal case of Chikli on balance with the metro bill – designed to get the complete project for a network of trams and underground trains in Gush Dan going, for the benefit of all the population expected to use it – and complying with the various conditions the US has laid down to free Israelis of the requirement for visas, is certainly petty, especially if one remembers that this legislation is bound to be passed sometime in the future, one way or another.
The issue seems to be who will finally gain credit for these two worthy pieces of legislation – the outgoing government, which proposed the bills, or a Likud-led government that the Likud believes it will form after the elections. It is all part of the Likud’s strategy since the government was formed in June 2021, to prove that the government did nothing and deserves no credit for any achievements whatsoever.
A more minor scene, but equally cynical, occurred in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chaired by the pedantic MK Gilad Kariv (a Reform rabbi from the Labor Party), which was in charge of preparing the Election Law, which provides all the provisions for Election Day.
When the committee dealt with special provisions to ensure that even if a wave of corona will prevail during Election Day, the residents of assisted-living facilities will be able to vote. MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud) attacked Kariv, arguing that the provision was political, implying that because most of the residents of assisted-living facilities are middle-class Ashkenazim, the provision is designed to work in favor of the Center/Left lists.
Why couldn’t Karhi simply come up with a suggestion on how to facilitate the accessibility of polling stations for senior citizens who live alone?
The House Committee, chaired by Nir Orbach (Yamina – defected), was responsible for preparing the Dissolution Law of the 24th Knesset. Most of the work on this law involved dealing with thousands of reservations presented by both coalition and opposition MKs.
The atmosphere in this committee was a little more relaxed, and at least when I watched the proceedings on TV, MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) and MK Naama Lazimi (Labor) carried on a sort of two-headed stand-up act, in which each presented another lot of reservations.
Why all the reservations when, in fact, everyone was in favor of dissolution (in the final vote 110 MK voted in favor, and none voted against)?
For example, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) submitted around 1,200 reservations in order to try to delay the dissolution until after June 30, so that the validity of the regulations dealing with the application of Israeli law to Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria would expire. The Labor Party and Yisrael Beytenu submitted reservations in protest of the fact that the coalition and the opposition had not reached a compromise regarding the Metro Law.
Orbach finally got over this hurdle by applying Article 98 of the Knesset Rules of Procedure, which states that in exceptional circumstances the House Committee is entitled to lay down special procedures designed to shorten deliberations on bills.
Before the Dissolution Law came to the vote, Bennett – who was about to leave the premiership – decided not to speak, leaving the field open to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave a speech similar in spirit and content to that which he had delivered on June 13, 2021, when Bennett’s government was inaugurated. Now, as then, he had nothing positive to say about it when it was about to leave office.
Last year and this year he considered it a dangerous and totally incompetent government, captive in the hands of the Islamic Movement and the “supporter of terrorism” Mansour Abbas.
Then and today, Bennett himself was depicted as an opportunistic crook and liar, while Lapid – who was now about to become transition prime minister – was portrayed as having no suitable qualifications for the job.
If the government of change had any achievements at all in the fields of economics, foreign relations and health, it was all – according to Netanyahu – because of the marvelous inheritance it had received from his own governments until June 2021.
There is no point replying to Netanyahu’s speech, because it is false from beginning to end. He seems not to be concerned with facts or reality.
HISTORY WILL judge the qualities of Netanyahu’s governments (including the one he might form after the November 1 election) and of the short-lived government that Bennett led. It is not at all sure that the latter will be judged negatively, though it certainly didn’t survive long enough to prove its full potential.
This is perhaps the place to point out that Bennett’s government was not the shortest living government Israel ever had (one year and 17 days). Netanyahu’s fifth government – the fraudulent emergency government he formed with Benny Gantz in May 2020 – was the shortest (seven months and six days), this despite the fact that the Likud was the largest parliamentary group in the 23rd Knesset with 36 seats, and the government was supported by 73 MKs.
As a final note, Netanyahu should be commended for the fact that on Friday, he called up Lapid to congratulate him for his appointment as transition prime minister, though he refused an offer by Lapid to receive the monthly security briefings that the leader of the opposition is entitled to receive from the prime minister. The conversation lasted for five minutes.
Bennett was not honored with such a call when he became prime minister.
The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge on July 29.