Finance Minister Yair Lapid announced Friday that he intends to continue the controversial custom of "skipping" the Knesset and delivering key speeches in major conventions and private forums, saying that he prefers to speak without being constantly interrupted by opposition Knesset members. Lapid's move drew fierce criticism from both coalition and opposition MKs who said it is disrespectful to the Knesset.
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Lapid explained his move in an e-mail sent to supporters following his decision to present his financial worldview this week at a convention of the Institute for National Security Studies, while using the Knesset only to attack the ultra-Orthodox MKs.
One can probably point to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as the founder of this custom. In 2002, he chose the Herzliya Convention to declare his support for the U.S.-sponsored Road Map, and one year later chose the same venue to reveal the plan to disengage from Gaza. Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, presented his own views regarding negotiations with the Palestinians for the first time at the Herzliya Convention, as well.
Over the years, many finance ministers have also preferred to circumvent the argumentative Knesset Plenum by choosing to speak at the Caesarea Economic Policy Planning Forum.
The finance minister blamed his decision on the behavior of opposition MKs, chiefly the Haredi ones. Lapid says he met with MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), right after their public confrontation this week.
Lapid said he told Gafni that "tomorrow I am going to get on the stage of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and deliver my first major speech as finance minister. I will present the principles of the plan I intend to submit to the government, detail my vision for Israeli society and reveal, for the first time, what reforms the Finance Ministry intends to pass as part of the Economic Arrangements bill."
He subsequently added that "the mistake is, that from every way you look at it, it would be better had I delivered this speech in the Knesset. I believe it is more democratic, and more proper, that MKs be the first to hear, directly from the finance minister, what his plan is, instead of reading it in the newspaper the next day."
'Very true,' Gafni replied. 'So why don't you do just that?'
'Because your faction won't let me get through my first sentence,' I answered.
'Both of us know exactly how that will play out. I'll begin speaking, and you'll start screaming and squawking, and I won't be able to explain anything. An economic vision is a complex matter, and it deserves a rational debate that is based on facts. I need 25 minutes to explain the budget, and it doesn't seem too much to ask for, that MKs listen seriously without interruption for 25 minutes to something that will later determine how the country's economy is run. If you would enable me to do that, I'd be willing to sit down with you afterwards for six hours straight, listen to your opinions on every single clause, write down comments and examine everything seriously and in good faith.'
'It doesn't work that way,' Gafni replied.
'Because that's just how it is in the Knesset.'
'What sort of an answer is that? If that's how it is, it should be changed.'
'That won't work.'
'But don't you agree with me,' I insisted, 'that is should be like that. That it would be more respectful to the Knesset, and to us?'
'Perhaps,' Gafni said, hesitantly.
'So I want to challenge you,' I said. 'Go and organize the opposition MKs. Tell them it's time to change the rules of the game and create a different sort of debate. We'll determine a couple of hours without heckling. I'll listen to you, you'll listen to me, this might even lead to a fruitful dialogue. Would you like to try?'
'I'll get back to you, ' Gafni answered with a smile.
Of course he never got back to me, and probably never will, but still, it's a shame. It could be different, and the fact that it 'always was like that' seems like a weak excuse for us not to be able to rehabilitate our scarred Knesset's lost pride," Lapid wrote.
Later in the afternoon, after Lapid's message was sent out, Gafni responded. "As for the plenum heckling- Even if you have a hard time dealing with them, they are part and parcel of the parliamentary process, in Israel and in democracies all over the world. I do believe it was your father stood out in the field of heckling, during his tenure as an MK."