On Tuesday, the 120 Knesset members who were elected two weeks ago were sworn in in a festive ceremony and the 19th Knesset began its term. This Knesset will be substantially different from its predecessor, at least in terms of its human composition: It will have 48 new MKs, a record number of women ((27, more religious Jews, more journalists and three MKs who previously chaired the national student union.
These MKs bear a heavy responsibility: They must repair the grave damage left behind by their predecessors in the 18th Knesset, damage that threatens Israel’s continued operation as a liberal democratic state.
The previous Knesset made it a goal to mistreat minorities, especially Israeli Arabs. It branded civil-society and human rights organizations as enemies of the state. It spent a lot of time on legislation designed to restrict freedom of expression. The desire to prevent the evacuation of settlement outposts led coalition members into manipulations aimed at circumventing or neutering judicial rulings.
The new MKs will have to reverse this dangerous trend. They will have to work for the repeal of some of the laws with which the previous Knesset tarnished the state. These include the Admission Committee Law, which permits community towns, a specific type of small community, to reject candidates; and the so-called infiltrators’ law, under which African migrants who enter Israel illegally can be jailed for three years without trial. The new MKs will also have to refrain from opportunistic maneuvers that empty the legislature’s democratic essence of all content. It must be hoped that the manner in which Ehud Barak defected from the Labor Party and divvied up the cabinet spoils among the four MKs who joined him will become a byword for unacceptable parliamentary behavior.
Above all, the new Knesset must regain the public’s respect, which has eroded in the past four years. Ideological differences and political battles are vital components of the democratic game, but they must not lead to breaking the basic rules of appropriate behavior. The legislature must be a shining example for citizens.