Golden jubilee

Celebrating 50 years of the Knesset, Israel's home of democracy.

The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset is hosting “A Special Ambassadors’ Event for the Heads of Diplomatic Missions in Israel” on Tuesday, as part its 50th anniversary festivities. The theme of the golden jubilee celebrations for Israel’s iconic parliamentary building, which will continue until next summer, is “democracy.”
Tuesday’s event will feature addresses by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Diplomatic Corps Dean and Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba and Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. There will also be a panel discussion on the work of the Knesset, hosted by Knesset spokesman Yotam Yakir, as well as a panel on the challenges facing Israel and the Middle East, moderated by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde.
The day will conclude with the lighting of Hanukka candles by Edelstein and a special tour of the Knesset building, which was opened on August 30, 1966, at a ceremony attended by some 6,000 guests, including the heads of 44 parliaments and emissaries from 47 Diaspora communities.
Edelstein voiced the hope that the special events and educational projects over the coming months to mark the Knesset’s 50th anniversary will bring positive attention to the legislature and its importance to the public.
“The 50 years that passed in the current Knesset building include exciting, surprising and sometimes painful historic moments that belong to all Israelis,” Edelstein said. “More than ever, the values of democracy that the Knesset represents are significant to Israeli society.”
Among other things, the Knesset is hosting special tours for visitors highlighting great moments in its 50-year history and a “Now-and-Then” exhibit of what the Knesset looked like over the years. In addition, the Knesset is offering a 3D virtual tour of the plenum, plaza and Chagall Hall, using Google Cardboard, a virtual reality application that pairs a phone and cardboard goggles.
The Knesset has also launched an interactive website with games allowing children to virtually pass legislation. On Tu Bishvat, the anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the First Knesset, the Knesset will hold an open house, during which the public will be invited to take part in various activities and meet with Knesset members.
The Jerusalem Post will publish a special magazine for the Knesset’s 50th anniversary and Army Radio will devote a week of broadcasts to Israeli democracy. Later on in the year, at the initiative of Israel Radio, the Knesset will have an “Educational Radio Day,” during which announcers from academic institutions and schools will broadcast from the parliament building.
The Knesset took its name and fixed its membership at 120 from the Knesset Hagedola (the Great Assembly), the representative Jewish council convened in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE.
Edelstein noted that the last heads of a sovereign Jewish state were the Hasmoneans, who, after a determined struggle that resulted in the first Hanukka, established a Jewish monarchy that lasted 130 years.
“This institution brings together 120 representatives from a wide variety of social sectors, representing different religions and ethnicities – in short, the entire dazzling mosaic that is Israeli society,” said Edelstein. “These individuals are all elected through the democratic process, and are invested with the voice and the opportunity to have an influence and cast their vote.”
Before the Knesset moved to its permanent premises in Givat Ram, it convened at Jewish Agency headquarters and Froumine House in Jerusalem, as well as at the Kessem Cinema in Tel Aviv. President Chaim Weizmann opened the first Knesset session at the Jewish Agency building on February 14, 1949.
“In ancient times, this little country of ours bore the banner of spiritual revolt against the tyranny and violence which raged around us,” he said. “The Torah and the vision of the Jewish prophets determined a new moral code in interpersonal relations and a new regime in society. The authority of the kings of Israel was limited by Jewish law and religious traditions; and the prophets of Israel were not afraid to speak out and rebuke kings and princes, defending the poor and the underprivileged, the stranger and the slave, the orphan and the widow.”
Weizmann’s words still ring true. This is a time of great danger, posed both by terrorist groups and anti-democratic forces from both outside and within Israel. While confronting tyranny and violence, Israel must continue to be a bastion of democracy and free speech, defending the poor and the underprivileged. This is the Knesset’s primary challenge as it marks its golden jubilee.