The Knesset Spent Most of Its Summer Session in Waiting Mode

The Knesset yesterday concluded its summer session, which was marked by legislators leaving the scene, securing long-awaited appointments and anxiously awaiting primary results. Following are some of the highlights of the 2007 summer session.

Incapacitated. The Knesset saw two public figures leave the scene during its summer session. One was former president Moshe Katsav. The other was Azmi Bishara.

Until three months ago, Bishara acted as a bitter ideological opponent of Zionism in his capacity as Knesset member. But he fled the country this spring due to suspicions that he provided Hezbollah with information during last summer's Lebanon war. His flight resulted in a plethora of bills proposing limits on the actions of Israeli Arab legislators. Some have passed their preliminary reading.

No longer a loser. Although rape and sexual harassment charges forced Katsav to suspend himself as president months ago, the end of the summer session spelled the definitive end of his political career: The Knesset, by a large majority, elected Shimon Peres (Kadima) to replace him.

Peres's two rivals, Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Colette Avital (Labor), quit after the first round, making the presidential vote a show of unity. Apparently, even eternal losers can become winners - provided they have the prime minister working for them. Having the best strategists around also does not hurt.

Quiet, we're waiting. The summer session was a time of waiting. First, legislators waited for the results of the first round of Labor's leadership primary. Then, they waited for the second round. Finally, they waited for the cabinet reshuffle that followed. Compounding the waiting mood was the fact the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert never bothered to appoint a coalition chairman. The former chairman, Avigdor Yitzhaki, resigned toward the start of the summer session, in early May.

Reforms can wait. This parliamentary limbo meant that the summer session was less than ideal for coalition-driven initiatives. Professor Menachem Ben-Sasson, who heads the Knesset Constitution Committee, meant to submit a package of bills to change the system of government. He wanted to introduce the so-called Norwegian rule, under which ministers who are MKs must resign from the Knesset, and to raise the electoral threshold. But it was not to be.

With the possibility of early elections hanging in the air, Ben-Sasson found it hard to enlist enough support to pass his initiatives into law. He is now hoping to do so during the winter session.

Private bills. Naturally, when the coalition is weak, MKs consider it a good time to promote their own bills. Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar, for example, passed a law allowing the courts to throw out indictments that cause severe injustice to the accused. And Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor), along with Kadima's Ronit Tirosh, passed a law to make schooling mandatory until age 18, instead of 16.

Blunders. Labor whip Yoram Marciano finished the winter session last March with a drunken brawl with security guards at a Herzliya nightclub. He will finish the summer session with a ticket for shaving while driving and police allegations of fleeing from an officer. The Pensioners Party is experiencing its first sexual harassment scandal, after a party activist accused MK Yitzhak Ziv of harassing her. Ziv claims the allegations were a form of political revenge.

Tipping the scales. The sun shone brightly on the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) factions during the summer session. This went beyond the slap that Amnon De Hartog, head of the Justice Ministry department that oversees state funding for nonprofit organizations, gave MK Yakov Cohen of United Torah Judaism. The political situation favors the Haredim.

Ehud Barak's election as head of Labor made the party's partnership with Kadima less stable than it was under former Labor chair Amir Peretz. The ultra-Orthodox are therefore once again in a position to tip the scales. So now, everything is easy for them.

The Tal Law, which exempts Haredi yeshiva students from army service, was extended for another five years. The Knesset also passed the Nahari Law, which requires local authorities to help fund private schools, in most cases ultra-Orthodox ones.

The Haredim have only one problem: Their bill to allow ultra-Orthodox schools to ignore the Education Ministry's core curriculum got stuck in preliminary reading. Now, it is unclear how the ministry will fund Haredi schools that do not use this curriculum.