The Knesset held a special plenary session on Wednesday to mark the 69th anniversary of its establishment on Tu B’Shvat, 1949. The session was held in the presence of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Yoel Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog all honored the memory of poet Haim Gouri, who passed away Wednesday morning, and offered condolences to his family. Speaker Edelstein announced that the tree-planting plot in the Knesset’s archeological garden would be named after Gouri.
An unusual incident occurred when Speaker Edelstein invited PM Netanyahu to the podium, as MK Oren Hazan (Likud) yelled towards Speaker Edelstein, “Maybe you should use this opportunity to apologize to the prime minister.”
Speaker Edelstein proceeded to eject MK Hazan from the session.
PM Netanyahu said, “At a time when countries in the region are collapsing and there is fanaticism and bloody conflicts, with no end in sight, the oppressors of freedom and progress, headed by the regime in Iran, are spreading their terror everywhere. Iran is arming its offshoots in the Middle East with deadly weapons, and history has taught us that some democracies fall into a deep sleep in light of this danger. They do not wake up ‘until the jarring gong of danger awakens,’ as Churchill put it. Israel does not suffer from this shortcoming. We protect ourselves resolutely and forcefully, and those who seek to annihilate us are placing themselves at risk of annihilation.”
“We stand strong in the face of the aggression of the Iranian regime,” PM Netanyahu said. “We have no conflict with the Iranian People. We recently saw how thousands of brave Iranians took to the streets. I believe with all my heart that the day will come when the citizens of Iran will be liberated, and perhaps even establish a thriving democracy. When this will happen, most of the dangers looming over us and the region will disappear. The Kurdish nation, which supports freedom, is fighting destructive forces as we speak. Many in the Arab countries and Iran look at the Israeli democracy with admiration.”
In his speech, PM Netanyahu also addressed recent statements that Israeli democracy is in jeopardy. “Israel is one of a handful of countries which formed a democratic regime after World War Two,” he told the Plenum. “There are no democracies without tension. It’s not a problem with democracy – it’s an integral component of democracy… Democracy is always changing; it’s not frozen… Life changes, the nation changes, democracy changes with them… It’s not static; it moves. There are arguments.”
“The Knesset plays a key role in the democratic life, because, in its laws and debates, it expresses the desire of the People,” PM Netanyahu stated. “I see the important work that is being done in the committees and the plenum, by both the coalition and opposition. I know the parts of the Knesset that are creaky get the most attention, but there is great work happening here every day.”
“Our vigorous and free democracy is not in danger; it is going through a process of evolution, but its foundations are strong. It is functioning well, just as the State of Israel is functioning well, and there is room for improvement. No other democracy is tested each and every day, as we are here. Therefore, this self-flagellation, [saying] that our democracy is in danger, is simply wrong.”
Opposition leader MK Herzog criticized the coalition for boycotting all opposition legislation. The boycott was announced three weeks ago in response to multiple opposition filibusters, and taking advantage of several coalition MKs’ absence to go to the funeral of a victim of terror to try to strike down a bill.
“On this day, the 69th anniversary of the establishment of the Knesset, I must express our protest,” he said. “Recently, we have witnessed measures which damage the honor of the Knesset; attempts to limit the opposition’s ability to enact laws in this House, with a kind of boycott, an unjustified quarrel that mocks the spirit of a parliament in which the opposition has a central and vital role, mainly in enacting laws.”
MK Herzog also addressed the level of discourse in parliament, saying “there cannot be any rotten apples in the Knesset, and there cannot be among us any spoiled fruits which will ruin the entire field. The eyes of the nation look to this House, to the good fruits of the nation which are here, and it is our duty to serve as an example with respectful dialogue, mutual respect between us… Respecting the other and the different, fully protecting the basic right of people to express themselves and speak freely, even if we disagree with every word that comes out of someone’s mouth.”
Speaker Edelstein, who opened the session, said the MKs have a lot to be proud of, and noted that in his address to the Knesset last week, US Vice President Mike Pence said, “it is deeply humbling for me to stand before this vibrant democracy.”
Edelstein said, “Some people laughed [when Pence said this], as always, but he was 100 percent right. Every day in this House, we nurture seedlings of law and flowers of regulations, which help decorate the State of Israel. Their roots drink from the long history of the Jewish People, which is a history of law and commentary.”
In his speech, Speaker Edelstein urged lawmakers to respect one another and said: “To create a society, we have to sit together, look one another in the eye and compromise. We each have to remember that our voices are important, but they’re not the only ones. We’re not singing a solo.”
The Knesset, Speaker Edelstein said, is where Israel’s complex society deals with the challenge of coexisting with people who disagree.
“We know how to shout at each other, but also to laugh. We defend our democracy through one article after another in our committees and the plenum,” he stated.