Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel:
|Invitation to the special Plenum sitting in honor of the |
Knesset's birthday on Tu Bishvat, 1986
I am honored to open the Knesset sitting with wishes of a happy holiday.
Members of the Knesset, our guests - former Knesset members, today the Knesset will discuss itself. It has become a nice tradition in recent years that the 15th of Shvat, the Knesset’s birthday, is dedicated for self-examination. Today we will turn the criticism not towards the executive branch, and even not towards the media, but towards ourselves – self-criticism for the purpose of drawing conclusions.
As the members of the Knesset surely notice, the Knesset building intensively held in the past year many visits and gatherings of youth and soldiers. We are marking the Knesset’s birthday this year with intensive discussions, in various seminars that are held in the building on the subjects of youth, media, military and democracy. We hosted today the chief commanders of the military education system, which had to deal in the past year with the subjects of tolerance and democracy. And to top it off, in a special project on this upcoming Thursday dozens of Knesset members will visit IDF camps, to speak out on behalf of the Knesset and to hear them speak from their hearts. I would like to thank them for their willingness.
I am aware that such widespread activity in the building is troubling and disturbing at times, but I am sure that we all accept it with love, for this presents the conception that our democratic system is not passive, but it tries to create initiatives in the forms of propaganda, problem solving and bringing people closer.
Nevertheless, it is clear that nothing should be seen as propaganda alone, and we must think together at times of how to deal with flaws that are significant, and at times aesthetic, that are revealed in our democratic system from time to time.
I will begin, in an uncommon way, with a pat on our shoulders. It is worthy to note that, unlike the prophecies of many who said that in a reality of such a wide coalition the Knesset will lose its edge and weight, we are witnessing noteworthy parliamentary activity, and that is undoubtedly proof of the strength of our parliamentary system. But the Knesset is especially worthy for good wishes on its struggle against racism. We have yet accomplished the task, but it would be correct to say that the majority of house members, from all across the political spectrum, have taken part in the past year in the legislative and public relations effort against this phenomenon, that contradicts the spirit of Judaism and threatens the image of our society and its moral strength. The acts of legislation on this matter, those that have been completed and those that are at work, are a testimony for it.
And from these heights, back to the reality that is not always as glamorous. I have received a letter recently from a distinguished university professor, in which he writes, among other things: “--- The problem of the existence of democracy in Israel is a cardinal one. There is a wide population that does not believe in democracy. The person on the street looks at the authorities and asks: What is that? And he is being told: That is democracy. And so he says: If that is democracy, then I am against democracy ---.”
I think that this description is an exaggerated one, but it does emphasize that this feeling exists not only in the margins, and not only racists are lurking to pounce on democracy as their prey. Each one of us who meets with the public, and especially the youth, is faced with questions and claims that repeat themselves. Some of these are founded and just, and some are conceived by errors and falsifications. It has been said before that “Vox populi,” (the voice of the people) and it is better that we put our mind to it.
I am faced with five repetitive questions: 1. The behavior of the Knesset members, their language and their attendance in sittings; 2. The electoral system, the multiplicity of parties and the lack of democracy in creating their lists of candidates; 3. Knesset members’ wages; 4. Knesset members’ immunity; 5. The apathy of our democracy.
I will not speak in length on the first two questions at hand. The matter of the electoral system, including the internal party primaries, is being debated publicly. The matters of behavior and attendance have also been discussed many times, and all that is left is that we set standards and rules of ethics for ourselves, and implement them with no hesitation.
In parallel, we must continue making the work of the Knesset more effective, as well as improving its relationship with the government and upgrading of the level of debates. The recent changes that aim to reduce the number of motions for the agenda, to limit the time for rationalizations, and the to develop the oral parliamentary questions – this is all good for making the discussion more lively and purposeful, but it is only the beginning.
The wages of Knesset members had become a favorite subject for attacks, not always justified, and at times irresponsible. Together with the chairman of the House Committee, MK Micha Reisser, I appointed a respectable public commission that will examine the subject and present its recommendations, in order to put an end to the claim that the Knesset members are “taking care of themselves.” However, there are a few principle points I would like to say on this matter.
There is no doubt that there have been distortions over the years, that were initially ad-hoc solutions, and they have stuck with us and became norms. We must uproot weeds, but we must also maintain the democratic principle of guaranteeing proper wages to elected representatives. A society that does not guarantee proper wages to its judges, law enforcers and legislators, is undermining its own authority.
We must see before us an average Knesset member, that this is his source of income, and he fulfills his public position to the best of his ability and understanding. If we will not do so, we will cause the Knesset to be occupied by the wealthy and independent, or others that will be generously assisted by their families, friends or sources of interest, to maintain a reasonable standard of living.
One of the earlier distortions of parliamentary rules was the ceiling of wages, which ensured that the houses of legislators will be occupied by those who are “welcome,” e.g. people of means. There are such rules existing today in the world, and we must not look up to them.
Anyway, I would like to hope that passing the subject onto a public commission will amend what needs to be amended, and maybe even reduce the fixation on the subject.
The subject of immunity was also recently discussed on our agenda, in our many misdemeanors. Out of our will to maintain a meaningful immunity, we should carefully examine if we do not burden it beyond its capacity, for the principle of immunity is faced with the principle of equality before the law. I hope that the House Committee, which is dealing with it at the moment, will find the golden path, which will also maintain and uphold the feeling of a Knesset member’s freedom to act, for this is the true meaning of democracy.
Nevertheless, members of the Knesset, the privilege, the power and the prestige that we are given by our status as Knesset members to criticize the government in all of its actions must also bestow us with obligations and limitations. The authority and dignity of a Knesset member is found in his parliamentary activity, in debate and in criticism. That is what the immunity is given for, and not that he could bend the law or take it into his own hands, which is a phenomenon we witnessed more than once in the past year. It is time that we realize that even a government we oppose and disagree with is not a foreign rule, Ottoman or Mandatory, that needs to be tricked and calls for creating a reality that hurts the proper order. This is not what we will be glorified for. This is a phenomenon that is, perhaps, an outcome of constraints by the media and the legitimate will to gain the public’s attention, but in the long run we may seem to it as bandits, and not as legislators. And the dignity of the Knesset and the democracy – what will become of it?
Another subject caused the Knesset status to devaluate. I often hear reflections regarding the democratic sense found in our parliament, and to what extent are we guided by wide public considerations, or perhaps we are triggered by temporary parliamentary and party considerations, which do not always see eye to eye with the perception of a free and democratic lifestyle. Not every resolution or law that is approved by a majority, as needed, makes this sense of nervousness and compulsion seem better. It is sometimes a pyrrhic victory, or a pyrrhic law. Lack of tolerance is not only a bad advisor, but is also a two-edged sword.
I have been approached in recent days by citizens and asked to intervene in an argument that broke out in one of the cities, due to the will of religious Jews to settle there. They said to me, justifiably: Is it possible that Jewish people will be prevented to settle here because of fear of possible religious coercion? Can we absorb Aliyah in this manner? But there are signs here of ignoring the roots of this problem, the lack of tolerance we witnessed in other places, of attempts to impose a lifestyle, first by violence and later on by orders and regulations. This is the manner of reactions - that they break out in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in an unwelcome manner. The Knesset will do good if it will listen to the people at any time there is fear of harming the foundations of tolerance and democracy.
I will refer to another matter of the Knesset’s work: The ties we have made and extended with many parliaments around the world. We have had many distinguished delegations here in the past year, including parliamentary speakers. Unfortunately, we have had to cut back drastically on our reciprocal visits due to the difficult economic situation, and it may even harm the relations that are based on mutuality.
Nowadays, when parliaments take an active part in the international system, this matter has greater significance. The Knesset’s delegation to inter-parliamentary institutions has successfully represented the Knesset and the state under uneasy terms. The members of the Knesset have contributed to the struggle for Israel’s status in the common market, and they even contributed in the process of renewing our relations with Spain.
In conclusion, I would like to take this festive opportunity and express – and I am sure I speak on your behalf too – good wishes and much appreciation to all of the Knesset employees. We enjoy their dedicated services throughout the year, beginning with the Knesset Guard that enables us to hold our sittings in peace and quiet – or maybe not always quietly, but always in peace – the ushers that accompany us and the stenographers, and concluding with the staff of the committees and everyone else. Thank you all.
Members of the Knesset, it was brought to my attention that the publication in the newspaper on my saying to students that I did not elect half of the Knesset members. I said it jokingly by way of explanation to the students, and since I have been accosted with great accusation, I wish to say that I did not mean any harm. Such quotes tend to be taken out of context. I did not mean any harm to those that I have elected, as there are such, and not to those that I have not elected.
This material is an unofficial translation of
the "Divrei Haknesset" minutes.