President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday addressed lawmakers at the inaugural session of the 20th Knesset, adopting a tone of gentle admonishment to remind MKs of their responsibility to serve the diverse needs of all Israeli citizens.
Speaking at the opening induction ceremony for the new MKs, Rivlin urged lawmakers to attend to the needs of the nation, saying “the time has come to return to the main players — the citizens.”
“Don’t forget for a moment who sent you all here,” he said. “Public trust is the most valuable property there is in a democracy and this trust lies now in the hands of each and every one of you.”
After a tumultuous election campaign, the president told the Knesset and assembled dignitaries, “this building is a glass house, not so that the eyes of the nation will look upon you, but for your eyes to look upon the nation.”
The March 17 election, he said, “proved once again that Israeli democracy is strong, kicking and unpredictable.”
Contrary to pre-election surveys, the Likud party won 30 seats in Israel’s parliament, beating out the rival Zionist Union to earn the right to form the next government.
“In Carmiel and Nazareth, Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv, Ariel and Kochav Yair, Nahal Oz, Rahat and Netivot, in Jerusalem and across the country missions of citizens went out to form the Israeli mosaic of the 20th Knesset,” Rivlin said. “Their verdict designs the face of this Knesset and determines the face and future of the state of Israel for the years to come.”
Giving voice to concerns that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form a narrow right-wing and religious government which serve the interests of only its constituents, Rivlin called on MKs not to “leave the pain of the people and its demands outside the walls of the Knesset. Their pain over the lack of housing and lack of salvation, the distress of poor workers, the demands of uncompensated workers, and the ongoing concerns of the residents of the Gaza periphery.”
After Rivlin and interim Knesset Speaker Amir Peretz addressed the plenum, MKs swore in alphabetically, pledging one by one. After swearing in, several Arab MKs from the Joint List left the Knesset hall as the lawmakers sang the national anthem, “Hatikva.” The List’s chair, Aymen Odeh, did not leave the plenum, however, and stood with head bowed as the anthem was sung.
Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.