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Israel’s new Knesset sworn in

The 120 members of the 19th Knesset take their seats, at a brief but moving ceremony two weeks after the elections

MK's sing the national anthem during the opening session of Israel's 19th Knesset on Tuesday, February 5 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK's sing the national anthem during the opening session of Israel's 19th Knesset on Tuesday, February 5 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Two weeks after the January 22 elections, the 120 members of Israel’s 19th Knesset were sworn in on Tuesday afternoon. The ceremony, brief and rather moving, featured some music, two speeches — by President Shimon Peres and Knesset “elder” Benjamin Ben-Eliezer — and the 120 individual words of assent by the new MKs to their obligations as Knesset members. Here’s how The Times of Israel live-blogged the proceedings.

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Preamble The 19th Knesset is being sworn in on Tuesday afternoon, two weeks after the January 22 elections.

President Shimon Peres, outgoing Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and chief justice Asher Grunis are awaiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the speaker’s office. He’s a little late.

Peres and Rivlin are noting that there’s never been so big an influx of first-time Knesset members. They apparently aren’t aware that they’re on TV, until Peres’s aide alerts him.

Here’s the list of those who made the cut.

Netanyahu is being interviewed. “I’m very emotional,” he says. He also tells Channel 2′s Rina Matzliach not to worry about his coalition-building challenges.

Lots of handshakes in the speaker’s office. Sara Netanyahu and Peres great each other.

Inside the plenum, the veteran and first-time legislators are mingling and embracing — making and renewing political friendships.

Incoming Knesset member Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party tries out her chair in the plenum, Sunday (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

More women than ever before in this House — 27 in all – a boost in female power as we described here.

And all the newbies have already had a first training session — as we described here.

Netanyahu has now entered the Knesset plenum. It’s his eighth term in parliament, and looks set to be his third term as prime minister.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Labor’s veteran MK, will be running the show.

The IDF Orchestra blares out some opening notes, and here we go.

President Peres bangs the gavel to signal that we are in session, and announces the opening of parliament.

President Shimon Peres opens the swearing-in ceremony for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday, February 5 (image capture: Knesset Channel)

Singer Kobi Aflalo opens proceedings as the new MKs adjust to their new surroundings, with a rendition of Sea of Mercy.

Koby Aflalo sings "Yam Harahamim" (Sea of Mercy) at the sswearing in ceremony of the 19th Knesset on Tuesday, February 5 (image capture: Knesset Channel)

Peres welcomes the notables — including fifth president Yitzhak Navon, the chief rabbis, new MKs et al.

There are representatives of the various other religions too, and of bereaved families.

Peres says the 27 female MKs is “an achievement” but not good enough. He praises the balance “between the new and the experienced” legislators.

He stresses the MKs are there to serve the people, as Israel faces what could be existential threats and historic opportunities.

We’re an isle of stability in a stormy region, he says.

He praises Israel’s economic stability in troubling financial times.

Netanyahu is listening intently. Labor’s Yachimovich is reading something. Yair Lapid is staring into the middle distance.

Peres reminds the MKs that they’ve promised him they’ll work to close social and economic rifts, address poverty, deal with the need for equality.

120 Knesset members take their seats for the swearing in ceremony of the 19th Knesset on Tuesday, February 5 (image capture: Knesset Channel)

Democracy is about equality, and the right to be different. “Our people has suffered from racism. We will not allow racism in our country.”

He talks of a need for better education, affordable health care, affordable housing.

“We have made so much of so little” in this country, he says. And now that we’ve made such economic steps forward, we need to distribute the assets wisely, fairly.

Now he talks of Iran, “threatening our existence… threatening the peace of the entire world.” He says the regime there “is a stain on Persian history,” inspiring Hamas and Hezbollah, inciting viciously against Israel. “Its heads deny the Holocaust and threaten a holocaust… They lie. They have contempt for human rights… President Obama has skilfully assembled an international coalition,” Peres says, to thwart their nuclear weapons drive.

“Iran is a danger. Syria is a tragedy,” he says. “Assad, the mass murderer, has murdered his future.”

Peres stresses that “there is no security without an army,” but also that “there is no peace without diplomatic policies.” He speaks of peace as a Jewish heritage and a moral imperative.

Meanwhile, word is that new Arab MK Basel Ghattas from the Balad party has refused to attach to his lapel a blue and white ceremonial rosette pin, in the shape of a dove, that was presented to all Knesset members.

Having ranged across Israeli technological, medical and other advances, Peres now hails Israeli science progress. This is a country “that contributes to the world,” he says.

To the incoming Knesset members, he says, “there is no greater privilege than to serve the people… Work for a better world… May your steps be successful.”

Now he invites Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to the podium, to serve as acting speaker after he is sworn in.

President Shimon Peres hands the gavel over to Knesset elder, Labor MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer, to chair the swearing in section of the ceremony on Tuesday, February 5 (image capture: Knesset Channel)

Ben-Eliezer takes the oath, and accepts the gavel from Peres.

Now, the legislators hear the fuzzy broadcast of David Ben-Gurion declaring independence, excerpts from the first prime minister’s nation-founding speech in 1948. “We stretch our hand in peace,” says the voice resonant down the decades, “to our neighbors.”

Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, as the most veteran serving Knesset member, takes on the role of chairman of the Knesset until a formal nomination is made.

In his address Ben-Eliezer notes that while the previous government maintained a stable economy in Israel despite the global crisis, it failed in its duties on social welfare. Therefore, he says, the Knesset should embrace social justice in the coming years.

Ben-Eliezer also calls on the incoming government to engage in policies that will demonstrate to the world, including the Arab world, that Israel is serious about making peace.

With Ben-Eliezer’s speech at an end, Kobi Aflalo takes to the stage once more to sing.

If the glow reflected in the down-turned faces of many MKs’ is anything to go by, they are otherwise preoccupied with assorted gadgets.

The MKs now begin the formal swearing in to serve the Knesset. Ben-Eliezer reads out the oath, which requires them to swear allegiance to the State of Israel, and to honorably discharge their duties as member of the Knesset.

The individual member rise one at a time and say “I so commit!”

Arab MK Hanin Zoabi, the Balad party member who controversially participated in the fateful Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza in 2010, takes the oath dutifully, then picks up her bag and coat and promptly leaves her seat and the chamber, to a mild flurry of interest. Turns out, she’s not the only Arab MK to do so. Channel 2 says several of the 11 members of the Arab parties did the same — ducking out before the national anthem — and that they did so last time as well, in 2009.

The entire process of swearing in the 120 is taking just a few minutes. Here’s the new Knesset’s new bright star, Yair Lapid, rising to take the oath. Netanyahu follows soon afterwards.

The entire House rises now to sing the national anthem, Hatikva.

What was striking during that swearing-in session was how unexpectedly moving it was. Seeing first-time Ethiopian Knesset members, activists who months ago were anti-establishment protesters leading rallies on the streets, alongside veterans, all taking the oath of office, made for quite a stirring occasion.

Notable, too, was the fact that while many of the men rose to their feet rather perfunctorily to give their brief assent to the oath, most of the women stood up slowly and deliberately, rising to their full height, investing the words with purpose.

And that’s it. Ben-Eliezer declares the session closed. Everybody shakes hands — including, notably, Netanyahu and his likely coalition partner and certain future rival Yair Lapid.

There’s lots of milling around. Yair Shamir, son of former PM Yitzhak, looks at a photo of his late father and, when his interviewer describes Yitzhak as small in stature, responds, “but a great man.”

Channel 2 notes some of the interesting mixes of faces here, including Shas ex-felon Aryeh Deri and one of the men who investigated him, ex-cop Moshe Mizrahi, now a Labor MK.

They all then head off to a celebratory glass and group photos in the Chagall Hall. L’Chaim!

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