Shortly before 4 P.M. yesterday, Knesset members concluded the last remaining votes and left the building to begin their summer recess. Numerous efforts to persuade them to extend the session for another week or two due to the war in Gaza failed. “In any case, Knesset members spend more time in the television studios than in the Knesset at a time like this,” one said with a wink.
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It’s doubtful the Knesset’s summer session, which ended yesterday, will leave any traces in the history books. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure passage of a bill allowing security prisoners to be force-fed, nor did he manage to craft a bill on Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people that his entire coalition could support. Both initiatives have therefore been deferred to the winter session. Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) also failed to bring his flagship initiative – eliminating value-added tax on purchases of first homes – to a vote, while the Habayit Hayehudi party decided to shelve its bill forbidding security prisoners to be pardoned.
“It’s a session that ended in nothing,” MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) complained from the podium yesterday.
The session opened with the frenzied race for the presidency, in which several candidates were subjected to police inquiries or even full-fledged criminal investigations, forcing some to quit the race. Ultimately, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) won the coveted post, despite the prime minister having personally campaigned against him.
In his speech after being sworn in last week, Rivlin said that in his previous job as Knesset speaker, he sometimes presided over a hall empty of everyone but the MK speaking, and just he was listening. “More than once, listening cost me great effort and gritted teeth,” he said. “More than once, it even exacted a political and public price from me. But remember, the duty of making decisions is conditional on the duty of listening. Without listening, we will remove the elixir of life from democracy, and majority rule is liable to become the tyranny of the majority.”
Rivlin’s successor as speaker, Yuli Edelstein, doesn’t seem to have absorbed this message: He personally complained to the Knesset Ethics Committee about a radio interview by MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) in which she said that the kidnappers of three Israeli teens weren’t terrorists. On Tuesday, the panel imposed an unprecedented punishment on her: the maximum possible penalty, a six-month suspension from all plenum and committee debates.
The kidnapping of the three teens in June, followed by the war in Gaza, completely disrupted the Knesset’s agenda: With MKs eager to pontificate on these subjects, key bills were shelved, substantive debates were canceled and faction meetings virtually ceased. Instead, committees discussed issues like compensating residents of the south for wartime damage, supporting the troops and incitement by both left and right.
Three months ago, on the eve of the last Knesset recess, the house was bustling with legislative activity: Three major and controversial laws – a reform of the conscription law, a Basic Law mandating a referendum before ceding sovereign territory, and a law raising the electoral threshold for entering parliament – passed one after the other, thanks to a package deal brokered by coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud), under which all coalition parties agreed to support all three.
Over the past week, in contrast, the plenum has frequently been almost empty and the bills brought to a vote were mostly minor. On Tuesday, the government racked up its most significant legislative achievement of the session when it passed a law to shut down the Israel Broadcasting Authority and cancel the television license fee.
And what of all the politicians who promised to pass legislation on issues of religion and state, like instituting civil marriage or providing public transportation on Shabbat? No such bill took even one step forward. But there will be another chance when the Knesset reconvenes in October, after the holidays.