The Finance Minister’s Road Show

By deciding not to accord respect to the Knesset and not to deliver his important speeches there, Lapid is undercutting the democratic role of the legislature.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid is right: The Knesset plenum is an uncomfortable place from which to deliver speeches. Speakers are interrupted repeatedly by heckling. Not everyone listens to every word of the speeches. Disagreements are not uncommon and even strident expressions of opposition and noisy protest occurs there. For someone like Lapid, who had become accustomed to writing newspaper columns reflecting the consensus and presenting the news of officialdom on television, the Knesset is a new setting with which he is unfamiliar. So one can understand Lapid’s decision not to deliver his important speeches to the Knesset from now on.

In declaring that he will give them elsewhere − along with his decision to deliver most of his messages on Facebook, which is another one-sided medium that is generally free of interruptions, rather than newspaper interviews that could get bothersome − Lapid is expressing his new kind of politics. And it’s clearly not the democratic sort.

In an email he sent his supporters, Lapid explained why he preferred instead to present his economic worldview at an academic conference sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies. And addressing United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, he said: “I need 25 minutes to explain the budget. ... If you would agree to give me that, I’m prepared to then sit for six hours straight hearing your point of view.” He added: “Tell them the time has come to change the rules of the game and create a different kind of debate.”

Granted that the culture of debate in the Knesset is not always among the most advanced, but the Knesset, like any legislature in any country, is the place for elected officials to present plans and deliver important speeches. Even in legislatures with much longer histories, such as the British Parliament, speeches are interrupted by heckling, protest and objection. Those are the rules of the game of democracy. That is its main arena and every politician must adapt himself to those rules.

When Lapid presents his plan, he’s no academic spinning a new theory but rather a politician trying to advance a specific policy. The place to do that is in parliament. Of course, he can deliver additional speeches to his heart’s content, but his initial obligation is to the legislature where his policies will either be approved or rejected.

Lapid’s new politics will be judged for its content, not the medium through which it is delivered. It may not be pleasant to give a speech to the Knesset, but that’s how it’s done and where it’s done. By deciding not to accord respect to the Knesset and not to deliver his important speeches there, Lapid is undercutting the role of the legislature. By evading the heckling and expressions of disagreement, he is undermining the parliamentary structure. The Knesset must not allow him to do that.