Orientation day for freshman Knesset members is generally held in the parliament’s auditorium, which seats up to 200 people and comfortably holds the roughly 30-45 new lawmakers that are usually sworn in, as well as their aides and the dozens of parliamentary officials and journalists following them around.
On Wednesday, however, the new MKs, their staff and others crammed into the Knesset speaker’s office to open the day arranged for the rookie parliamentarians.
The reason? The 22nd Knesset will have just eight new MKs who have never served before.
After April’s election, an all-time high of 49 new MKs were sworn in, overtaking the 48 fresh faces elected in 2013, and making it the most rookie Knesset since Israel’s first-ever elections, which saw, somewhat obviously, 120 new lawmakers elected.
But with Israel going through an unprecedented second election in a year last week, most parties chose not to change their electoral slates, skipping repeat primaries and eschewing new figures. As a result, the 22nd Knesset will be the most veteran in the parliament’s history, even if many of its MKs have only served for four months.
None of the freshman lawmakers hail from the two largest parties, Blue and White and Likud, with the former having kept an identical slate to April’s and the ruling party only adding already-serving MKs from the now-defunct Kulanu party, with which it merged before September’s vote.
Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytneu, the Joint List and Yamina each have three MKs who didn’t serve in the 21st Knesset. The predominantly Arab Joint List, however, tops the list of MKs with no parliamentary experience, as the other parties’ new faces all include at least one who served in a previous Knesset.
The eight rookies are: Yair Golan (Democratic Union), Walid Taha (Joint list), Sami Abu Shehadeh (Joint List), Jaber Asakla (Joint List), Alexander Kushnir (New Right), Matan Kahane (New Right), Mark Ifraimov (Yisrael Beitenu) and Moshe Abutbul (Shas).
In addition to those first-timers, another nine future members of the 22nd Knesset did not serve in the 21st Knesset but served in previous Knessets: Orly Levi-Abekasis (Labor-Gesher), Omer Barlev (Labor-Gesher), Revital Swid (Labor-Gesher), Naftali Bennett (New Right), Ayelet Shaked (New Right), Nitzan Horowitz (Democratic Union), Stav Shaffir (Democratic Union), Saeed Alkharumi (Joint List) and Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu).
Addressing his new colleagues, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, whom Blue and White reportedly intends to replace with a candidate from within the party if the centrist faction heads the next government, told the newcomers that their chief obligation must be to the voters who sent them here.
“You have been given a privilege that most of Israel’s citizens do not have – to serve as emissaries of the public — and it makes no difference whatsoever whether you are in the coalition or the opposition; there are a great many things a member of Knesset can do. To our regret, we are sometimes judged by our productivity [in terms] of legislation. During the short-lived recent Knesset, more than 500 bills were put on the table, and one passed. In each of the previous Knessets, [only 4 percent of the bills submitted became law]. I don’t think you would keep a factory worker with such a production rate,” Edelstein said.
In the 20th Knesset, MKs submitted over 5,000 parliamentary queries — “so vast a number as to make it difficult to relate to them seriously,” according to researchers from the Israel Democracy Institute.
A study released earlier this year by the organization found that, relative to other parliaments in the world, the Knesset has seen a sharp increase in the number of private member bills submitted since the early 2000s, and this trend was even more keenly seen in the 20th Knesset. A total of 6,644 bills were proposed, of which only 593 (9%) were passed into law. A deeper examination showed that whereas 57% of government-sponsored bills and 67% of committee bills were passed, only 4% of private member bills became law.
Edelstein emphasized that “there is much more to do than legislation, and that is supervision of government work. We, as a Knesset, need to think about how to restore the Knesset’s power to supervise the government. It is not easy for an MK to supervise at the committees over the work of a ministry, which is headed by a colleague from the same [parliamentary] faction, let alone if he is the leader of the same faction or if he belongs to a faction that does not hold internal elections. We’ve already done a few things in this regard… but we need to do more.”
The new MKs, along with the returning lawmakers, will be sworn in to the Knesset on October 3.