(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
Israel’s parliament opened its doors Tuesday morning to the 120 Knesset members elected in this month’s elections who were set to be sworn into office later in the day in the new legislature’s official opening.
The crop of a record 49 new MKs includes a number of former IDF major generals and two former army chiefs of staff, a smattering of local politicians and activists, a former director of the Israel Diamond Exchange, and a vegan environmental activists who has vowed not to sit on her Knesset seat until the leather upholstery is replaced.
Upon entering the Knesset on Tuesday, the MKs new and old were each presented with a certificate congratulating them on their election to parliament and a blue and white rosette in the state’s colors (not related to a particular party named for these colors) to be worn on their lapels throughout the ceremony.
The official ceremonies will begin Tuesday at 3 p.m. when President Reuven Rivlin makes his entrance to the Knesset grounds, accompanied by an honor guard on horseback and the IDF military band. The president will place a wreath on the Knesset’s monument for fallen soldiers before meeting privately with the incumbent and likely-to-be-reelected Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The two will then lead the 120 MKs to the Knesset plenum for their first official session.
After an address by Rivlin and Edelstein, the MKs will each swear allegiance to the State of Israel, and to honorably carry out their duties as member of the Knesset. The parliamentarians, including the 49 rookies, will rise one after the other and declare, “I so commit!”
Nearly half of the freshman class hail from Benny Gantz’s greenhorn Blue and White party, only 11 of whose 35 incoming MKs served in the previous Knesset (all as Yesh Atid MKs). The situation is almost exactly reversed for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which sees 12 new lawmakers out of 36.
Amid the high turnover, 13 new female MKs are entering the Knesset, contributing to a matched-record high of 2015’s 29 total women, a noteworthy number considering the fact that the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are ideologically opposed to women serving as lawmakers and therefore have none in their combined tally of 16 seats. The number however, falls short of the 36 women in the outgoing Knesset. (Seven female lawmakers entered as replacements during the four-year life of the 20th Knesset.)
More than 1,000 people are set to attend the ceremony, most in the glass-enclosed public gallery. Among the invited guests are Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the two chief rabbis, the heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad, and foreign diplomats.
On the plenary floor, the MKs will be sitting according to their parties’ post-election blocs and relative strength. The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism are now both sitting on the main coalition benches to the right of the hall, having each won eight seats and, subsequently, an upgrade from the seating at the back shared by coalition and opposition MKs. Their old seats will now be filled by the depleted Labor delegation — down from 24 seats to its worst-ever election result of just six, and thus demoted from the frontline opposition benches.
As well as the new and reelected MKs, all members of the current transitional government, made up of the same ministers as the 34th government, are invited and expected to sit in the plenary, even if they are no longer Knesset members. The ceremony may well therefore be the last high-profile public event for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett from the failed New Right party, at least for the foreseeable future.
While the seats may be coveted, one incoming MK may refuse to so much as take hers.
In a letter to Edelstein on Tuesday, Blue and White’s Miki Haimovich, an environmental activist and a vegan, articulated her moral objections to the meat industry and requested that the leather chair she is set to occupy be switched.
“The thought of sitting all the hours I would be in the Knesset plenum on such a chair is insufferable,” Haimovich wrote. “In the future it might be worthy in principle to consider switching all the seats in the Knesset plenum to those that are not made from the skin of animals.”
A Knesset source, noting similar past requests, said it was unlikely that the chair would be reupholstered.
In any case, Haimovitch will likely stand during the Hatikva national anthem — often boycotted by the Arab Israeli MKs — which will close the proceedings.
Following the ceremony, the party heads will meet to toast the new Knesset and have their pictures taken. At the same time, in the plenary, the rest of the MKs, who are set to officially elect Edelstein to his third term as Knesset speaker and begin the process of officially opening the parliament’s committees, will get to work.