Israel's Freshman Lawmakers Attend Orientation Ahead of Swearing-in

Big names, including soon-to-be opposition leader Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Avi Gabbay, were no-shows

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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New Knesset members from Kahol Lavan take a selfie during orientation, Jerusalem, April 29, 2019.
New Knesset members from Kahol Lavan take a selfie during orientation, Jerusalem, April 29, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Dozens of newly elected lawmakers came to the Knesset building for an intensive orientation on Monday to prepare them for their new job, a day ahead of their swearing-in. The agenda included how to cast a vote, how to submit parliamentary queries and how to word bills.

Not all the rookies attended. No-shows included big names like soon-to-be opposition leader Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan, his party colleague Gabi Ashkenazi and Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, who has never been an MK. The only new party chairman who sat patiently for the marathon of lectures was Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-wing Parties, who is expected to be appointed a minister in the next government.

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Many of the new MKs were from Kahol Lavan: Zvi Hauser, Yoaz Hendel, Miki Haimovich and Meirav Cohen sat near freshman Likud representatives Nir Barkat and Kathy Sheetrit. Nearby was former general Tal Rousso, who decided not to drop out of the Knesset despite Labor’s poor showing in the April 9 election. Among the group of anonymous faces strolling through the halls, were Nurit Koren, Merav Ben Ari and Haim Jelin, who were spending their final day as MKs taking care of last-minute arrangements.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein greeted the new MKs, explaining that the orientation was aimed at making sure that “MKs who are told, ‘Meet me at the dairy cafeteria’ aren’t embarrassed, but also so that all of you spend a moment thinking to yourself why you have come to the Knesset.” He then added, “You can earn a living outside, too. Some of you have done great things for the Jewish people outside. Once you have a clear answer to the question, ‘What am I doing here?’ the rest will work itself out.”

Some of the newbies are well-acquainted with the material. Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan, for example, had been a parliamentary assistant and spokesman for Deputy Minister Matan Vilnai; Moshe Arbel of Shas had been a parliamentary assistant for MK Yoav Ben Tzur and the Likud’s Michal Shir had been a political adviser to Gideon Sa’ar in addition to being the founder of the Israeli Center for Political Training. Many of them already know what they want to focus on; Shir wants to get Israeli law applied to the settlements and prevent violence toward women, while Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) promised to battle bureaucracy, “the mother of all corruption,” as he put it.

Ofir Sofer from the Union of Right-wing Parties with Eli Avidar of Yisrael Beiteinu during orientation.
Ofir Sofer from the Union of Right-wing Parties with Eli Avidar of Yisrael Beiteinu during orientation. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

After a Knesset term marked by provocations by MKs like Oren Hazan and Haneen Zoabi, Edelstein expressed hope that the coming term would be more statesmanlike. He also asked the MKs to significantly reduce the number of bills they submit.

“What would a high school principal say if only four percent of his graduates earned a matriculation certificate? What would the CEO of a company say if he would be told proudly about four percent output?” Edelstein asked. “These are the real numbers with regard to legislation: There were 5,977 bills tabled during the previous Knesset, but only four percent of them passed. Think of how much money is wasted on the little gimmick of every MK who says that they tabled 300 bills. Let’s start with some internal censorship.”

Edelstein also called on the MKs to go on work-related trips abroad despite the media criticism. “Every one of those present will get a lot of invitations to travel abroad. Some of the trips are indulgences. Some are important, some less so. Please contact the Ethics Committee to check whether they constitute a conflict of interest.”

He also encouraged the MKs to take an active role in the Knesset’s international activities. “I am calling on you participate [in events sponsored by] the various parliamentary friendship associations and committees,”  he said. “Anyone who thinks those flights are pampering are mistaken. There are no direct flights from Israel to Strasbourg [where most such meetings take place].” 

Knesset Secretary Yardena Meller-Horowitz pressed the new MKs to restore the Knesset’s lost honor, noting that in recent years prime ministers and ministers have chosen to give their major speeches at conferences and events outside the Knesset. “Go back to making the Knesset the central platform and make the important speeches here,” she said.

Knesset Security Officer Yosef Grif reminded the audience that some of them could become the target of written or physical threats. On Tuesday the Knesset is scheduled to stop providing security to Yehuda Glick, considered one of the most threatened MKs during the previous Knesset, because he is leaving the legislature.

“During the last Knesset there were several MKs who were threatened and were given security guards by the Knesset,” Grif said. “The last of them was MK Glick, who finishes his term tomorrow. Another MK the Knesset guards 24/7 is the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, at my instruction. When there’s a concrete threat, we work in tandem with the Israel Police.” He also told the MKs that they would get a special briefing on how to cope with computer hacking attempts.

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