Acting Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is serving in an interim capacity until his replacement is chosen, is exploiting his authority as the head of the government’s legislative branch to represent the interests of the executive branch and the man who heads it. Edelstein is acting in clear violation of the will of a majority of lawmakers, in a conflict of interest, demonstrating a dereliction of his duty to represent the Knesset and disturbing the healthy balance between the authorities and the government.
Since a majority of Knesset members – 61 out of 120 – oppose the government, Edelstein was dispatched to block the activity of the legislature and prevent it from voting in a new speaker. It is inconceivable that a temporary speaker would use his authority to set the agenda in order to prevent the selection of a permanent speaker. It is parliamentary bullying, and it must stop immediately. Edelstein must allow the selection of a speaker who reflects the new majority in the Knesset. No excuse of coalition negotiations or public health can hide the fact that he is trying to use anti-democratic means to retain his position.
Particularly egregious is the attempt to exploit the Health Ministry’s directives in order to impose paralyzing restrictions on the legislative branch, while inventing excuses such as the threat to the lawmakers’ health. The Knesset is an essential workplace of the first order. Just as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, bankers or supermarket clerks continue to work in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, so too must the Knesset members do their duty, including supervising the government and managing the crisis.
We must remember that it is the government that is responsible to the Knesset, and that the Knesset is not the legislative branch of the government. The Knesset represents the people, which are the sovereign power in a democracy. The government’s moves to paralyze the legislature are therefore anti-democratic. Nowhere in the world has such a thing occurred. In the few places where the parliament was adjourned, it was done with the agreement of a majority of parliamentarians.
There is nothing more essential than a functioning parliament, precisely in times of emergency. Meetings and votes can take place in such a way as not to endanger the health of the lawmakers. The combination of the Israeli government’s inherent weakness of oversight, the suspension of the Knesset, a media that is busy with the health and economic crisis and citizens who are under a lockdown, fearful for their and their loved ones’ health and preoccupied with economic survival, brings us closer to an absolute regime – certainly in the case of a transitional government, all of whose decisions are apparently made by one person.
Edelstein must immediately permit the selection of a new Knesset speaker and the convening of the Knesset committees in accordance with the partisan composition of the legislature, which reflects the fact that the opposition has a majority. If not, the Supreme Court must intervene. Israel can no longer agree to the shameful evasive tactics of Edelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu, his puppet master.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.