A Paralyzed Parliament - Questions and Answers
What does the law provide regarding Knesset activity following elections?
In accordance with the law, the new Knesset is sworn in approximately two weeks after the elections. Elected Knesset members declare their allegiance, thus commencing the new Knesset. The Knesset is an independent body whose composition and activities are not contingent on any other governing body. On the contrary – separation of powers is critically important, as it recognizes the Knesset’s central role of overseeing the government and protecting citizens from the tyranny of the majority and human rights violations, as well as the defense of sound governance and the rule of law.
How does the Knesset commence operating?
In order to initiate Knesset activity during a transitional period (until a new ruling government is formed), two important things are meant to occur:
a. The designated Knesset Speaker is selected;
b. The Arrangements Committee is appointed.
What has actually occurred during this period?
Although the elections took place well over two weeks ago, and the Knesset was sworn in a few days ago, and despite the fact that the majority of MKs have appealed to the Interim Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, demanding that he advance the process of electing the next Speaker and appointing the Arrangements Committee – these processes are yet to progress.
Various explanations have been given for this – first and foremost, constraints around health regulations regarding the coronavirus pandemic, despite the Knesset being exempt from these regulations. The Knesset provides an essential service, and as such it must continue operating at all times, especially during a state of emergency. If the pandemic poses challenges, then alternative means must be found to enable MKs to fulfil their roles. Further claims were also made regarding outstanding demands in coalitional agreements – which meet neither legal requirements nor the Arrangements Committee’s long-standing protocol regarding the promotion of said proceedings.
On 19.3.2020, ACRI appealed to the Speaker of the Knesset requesting that he initiate proceedings, urgently and without delay, to elect a designated Speaker and appoint the Arrangements Committee, as the law requires, so that the Knesset may commence operating.
Are similar things occurring in other countries?
Research conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center and a review of current occurrences around the world, indicate that despite the fact that many countries are contending with the virus in states of national emergency, and are even taking many of the same measures that Israel has taken to combat the pandemic, no other country’s parliamentary activity has halted to the degree that Israel’s has at this time.
Why is selecting a designated Knesset Speaker important?
Selecting a designated Knesset Speaker is critical for the Knesset to function democratically, as the speaker determines the Knesset’s daily agenda and oversees proper conduct. The speaker is chosen by the majority of MKs, and their selection reflects power relations among the Knesset.
Until a set Knesset Speaker is selected, the outgoing speaker (if re-elected to the Knesset) acts as an interim speaker. Article 2(b) of the Knesset’s bylaws sets a single limitation on the timing of electing a Knesset Speaker – it must be completed prior to forming a government. It is customary for the selection of the Knesset Speaker to take place as quickly as possible, and is not contingent on the creation of a coalition or other agreements made among those elected. Sometimes, the Knesset Speaker is elected upon swearing in the Knesset, while other times this occurs within a few days.
Why is appointing the Arrangements Committee important?
The Arrangements Committee is important because it is the first body appointed following elections and the convening of the Knesset, and activates the work of the newly-elected Knesset. Without the committee, the Knesset is unable to function, as is currently the case. The Arrangements Committee holds a host of different functions and powers: the selection of interim committees on issues of finance, foreign affairs, and security, through which parliamentary oversight of governmental activities takes place; recommending the establishment of permanent parliamentary committees; recommending special committees until the establishment of permanent ones, and more. The Arrangements Committee is also authorized to approve any decisions that impact the Knesset’s work and housekeeping, such as changing meeting times, recesses, and the like – roles that are typically filled by the permanent Knesset Committee. Hence the urgency in the formation of the Arrangements Committee, as without it the Knesset cannot commence any work whatsoever.
Article 2(a)(a) of the Knesset Law provides that the Knesset will select the Arrangements Committee as soon as possible upon being elected, and that it will be led by a member of Knesset from the same faction as the MK whom the President has tasked with forming the government. Article 2(a)(b), further provides that representation on the Arrangements Committee will be proportional to the relative sizes of the factions, and each party with at least four MKs will be represented on the committee. Throughout the Knesset’s history, it was standard that this committee be selected as swiftly as possible, typically the day that the Knesset is convened or very shortly thereafter.
What is problematic about the conduct of Interim Knesset Speaker, MK Yuli Edelstein?
The Speaker of the Knesset holds a national role, and is primarily committed to ensure that the Knesset functions with dignity. They are required to fulfill this national role with integrity and accountability among all the political factions that make up both the Knesset and general public. They must ensure that respect for constitutional law, the rule of law, and established norms among the Knesset are upheld. The Knesset Speaker cannot exploit his or her authority to advance narrow political interests, and is obligated to avoid foreign considerations, adequately weigh solely relevant considerations, and to do so for appropriate aims, in a reasonable and proportional manner.
What is the significance of the current situation?
The significance of neglecting to further these parliamentary processes, implies complete paralysis of all Knesset activity and counteracting its most basic role – overseeing governmental activity, and particularly emergency legislation currently being advanced by an interim government. Beyond the concrete human rights violations, this type of conduct erodes the very foundations of the democratic system.
There is no doubt that the Corona pandemic has posed substantial challenges to governance and society in the State of Israel, and that this is not a “normal” period. Yet precisely due to the fact that the country is facing a grave crisis, extreme and unprecedented in nature, with vast implications on health, liberty, freedom of movement, welfare, income, privacy and many more of the rights held by every citizen and resident of this state – the optimal and effective functioning of all state institutions is essential, none more so than the Knesset. This is especially the case when the government advances vast harmful emergency regulations upon addressing the crisis, which expand the activities of the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) to civilian spheres, and mass surveillance on behalf of the police, the Health Ministry and the ISA; violate the rights of workers; and more.
Moreover, the judicial authority is not operating at full capacity as a result of the Justice Minister having declared a “state of emergency.” All these measures entail grave violations of both human rights and Israeli democracy, and undermine mechanisms that protect separation of powers and the rule of law.