Latest update: May 2nd, 2013
Last week, a few minutes after my stormy exchange with haredi members of Knesset, I went to what we in the Knesset call the “back cafeteria.” It is not exactly a cafeteria but rather a lounge area behind the plenum where members of Knesset alone can enter.
There are couches and chairs, a smoking room, an espresso machine, and a large plasma TV that broadcasts the Knesset channel. This is the place where Knesset members can rest a little, gossip, close deals, and even develop friendships far from the public eye.
I took a coffee and sat with two fellow Yesh Atid MKs, Rena Frenkel and Yifat Kariv, who were still short of breath from the emotions that had just been unleashed in the plenum. After a minute, UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, whom I had engaged in most of the debate, appeared next to us.
Gafni is a complex person. Most of the time in the plenum he acts haughty, attacking and shouting – a “hero of interruptions” who is equipped, as I mentioned from the podium, with a very strong pair of lungs that enable him to deafen you without a microphone.
But the moment he is away from the cameras he becomes a sweet, reasonable person whom you can come to agreements with regarding laws and committee work. In my eyes, and apparently in his as well, this is not duplicitous. When one is in the plenum, one is a representative of the public. When one is in the back cafeteria, one can be a human being.
“You are making a mistake, Rabbi Gafni,” I told him.
“Regarding what?” he asked.
“Regarding the debate.”
“Listen,” I said. “Tomorrow I am ascending the stage at the National Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv to give my first comprehensive speech as finance minister. I am going to present the principles of the economic policies I plan to present to the government, to provide details regarding my vision for Israeli society, and to explain for the first time the reforms the finance ministry is planning to pass in the Economic Arrangement Law. ”
“So what was the mistake?” Gafni asked.
“The mistake,” I answered, “is that from every perspective it would be better for me to present this speech in the Knesset. In my view, it is more democratic and more fitting that members of Knesset be the first to hear from the finance minister regarding his financial program rather than reading about it the next day in the newspaper.”
“You are very right,” said Gafni, “so why don’t you do that?”
“Because your faction won’t let me even complete the first sentence,” I said. “We both know precisely what will happen. I will start to speak, you will begin to scream, and I won’t succeed in explaining anything. An economic plan is complex and it deserves to have a real discourse and thoughtful dialogue based on facts and realities. I need twenty-five minutes to explain the budget and I don’t think it is too much to ask MKs to listen with seriousness and without interruptions for twenty-five minutes to something that will set the course for the country’s economy.
“If you would agree to give me this opportunity, I am prepared to sit afterward for six straight hours, to listen to your side regarding every detail in the budget, to take notes, and to look into every issue with seriousness and in good faith.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Gafni.
“Because that’s just how it is in the Knesset.”
“What kind of answer is that? If that is so, then we need to change it.”
“It won’t work.”
“But don’t you agree with me,” I insisted, “that this is how it should work? That this will bring honor to the Knesset and to ourselves?”
“It could be,” Gafni said with hesitation.
“So I want to challenge you,” I said. “Go to the members of the opposition and get them organized. Tell them the time has come to change the rules of the game and create a new discourse. We will establish a couple of hours without interruptions from the floor and I will listen to you and you will listen to me. Perhaps a dialogue will emerge that will make us better. Want to try?”
“I’ll get back to you,” Gafni said with a smile.
Of course he never got back to me, and it appears he won’t. What a shame. It could be different, and “that’s just how it is in the Knesset” is a weak excuse for us not to be able to restore the lost honor of our scarred parliament.
About the Author: Yair Lapid heads the Yesh Atid Party and serves as Israel’s finance minister.
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