Israel Election Results: As New Knesset Sworn In, President Rivlin Says 'Populism Was Shown a Red Card'

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, Rivlin says 'there are moments in which the president is required to intervene and put the system back on track'

President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The results of last month's election are a "red card to populism," President Reuven Rivlin said at the swearing in of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem on Thursday, reiterating his desire to see a unity government lead the country.

"The results of this election are a badge of honor for Israeli society," Rivlin said in his speech. "It is a red card that the citizens of Israel showed to their elected officials. It is a red card to populism, to a political style that feeds off the schisms [in our society] and sees in all of our fears a resource to mine."

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Israel's newly elected Knesset members were sworn in on Thursday at a festive opening ceremony in Jerusalem. 

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz used the event to call for Netanyahu's resignation and the establishment of a broad, liberal unity government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the only way forward is a unity government headed by both candidates. 

The inconclusive election results from the September 17 vote has created a political deadlock that has left Israel’s longest-serving prime minister weakened. Netanyahu, facing a looming indictment on corruption allegations he denies, has failed to secure a clear election victory twice in six months. The two parties’ negotiators met on Sunday without success.

"My call for a broad government has drawn critisicm from both the right and the left," Rivlin said. "I am attuned to this criticism. It's legitimate criticism that is in many ways justified. And yet, there are singular moments in the life of a people, when a president is required… to intervene and act to recalibrate the system which is struggling to get back on track." 

"My power is limited," said Rivlin. "I can only try to mediate, and I don't know if I am the most suited mediator. But I know that this is a time of emergency - for Israel's security, for Israel's society and for Israel's democracy." According to Rivlin, only a unity government "would allow us all to breathe a little and heal."

Rivlin warned the lawmakers of the consequences Israel holding of a third election this year: "An election is the most expensive reality show in town," he said. "You must remember that from season to season the ratings may plummet, while the outcome stays the same."

Seventeen lawmakers who served in the last Knesset are not returning after the recent election. Instead, they were replaced by eight new members, and another nine who have served in previous Knessets. The new Knesset, which may dissolve soon if a new government cannot be formed, will have only 28 women, after a record number of 37 served in the 20th Knesset.

As opposed to the ceremony held only five months ago, it seems that this time the new MKs will not hold a vote to appoint a new speaker yet.

Following Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman's decision not to support any candidate until after a new coalition government is formed, no party was able to secure a majority of votes to name a new speaker.

The Knesset is expected to name the members of the “Arrangements Committee,” the temporary committee that is supposed to manage Knesset sessions and appoint members to other temporary Knesset committees until the establishment of a new government.

By law, the head of the Arrangements Committee is supposed to be an MK from the party of the candidate appointed by the president to form a government, and the committee membership is apportioned according to the relative size of all the parties. In the outgoing Knesset, Likud's Miki Zohar held the post.

Arab lawmakers join national protest

Meanwhile, talks overseen by President Reuven Rivlin to form a governing coalition continue, but no breakthrough has been reached. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan fail to end a stalemate in negotiations, Lieberman is slated to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday in a bid to push talks forward.

All 13 lawmakers from the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab parties, said Wednesday they would boycott the opening ceremony, as a gesture of "protest against the wave of murders and violence" in the Israeli Arab community.

Their decision comes as the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee called for a general strike on Thursday in protest of what the Israeli Arab leaders call lax police response to a recent uptick in violent crime and gun violence.

The plan for Thursday is to repeat the order of events of the swearing in of the 21st Knesset. Rivlin is scheduled to arrive just before 4 P.M., accompanied by a convoy of motorcycles and mounted police. An honorary guard will welcome him, and it is expected to be accompanied by the Israeli army's orchestra along with acting Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Three trumpet blasts will sound off as Rivlin enters the Knesset chamber, and then he will speak.

After Rivlin’s opening speech, he will invite Edelstein to swear his oath of office, which will enable him to run the session. Edelstein will then read out the text of the oath of office and all Knesset members will take their turns taking their oaths.

The events will end with a ceremony in the Knesset’s Chagall State Hall, and will include the traditional photograph with all the party leaders, along with a toast with all MKs and their families.