Democracy in Action: Citizens’ Eyewitness Accounts of Knesset Committee Meetings

The Social Guard in the Knesset was founded in the wake of the Israeli Social Justice Protest Movement in to advance socio-economic legislation and to reduce the democratic deficit between the people and their representatives. We believe that one of the most important markers of the successful functioning of a democracy is the ability of its citizens to access and interact with the centers of political power. As such, since 2012 we have brought thousands of Israeli citizens to observe and report on Knesset committee discussions. These eyewitness accounts serve as a tool to promote accountability of Knesset Members and lobbyists and as a testimony to the role that citizens can take in creating a more democratic society.

Below are a few accounts of recent Knesset committee meetings from the people who experienced them first-hand:

Following the Money Trail: The Health Ministry Appears at the Finance Committee

Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) made an appearance at the Finance Committee on November 24th to explain why her Ministry was deserving of a 700 Million Shekel boost for the 2015 and 2016 years. In addition to German, the committee played host to a wide variety of lobbyists for various health care-related interests, most prominently Erez Gil-Har, head of the Policy Lobbying Group, who was there to represent a major private hospital.

Gil-Har was seen repeatedly conversing with Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu), apparently in order to encourage him to push against German’s recommendation that taxes on Medical Tourism be increased, a measure strongly opposed by many private hospitals.

After conferring with Gil-Har, Miller came out strongly against increased medical tourism taxation. The meeting ended with Stav Shaffir (Labor) attempting to decipher where the budget increases were actually going – ultimately, she was able to meet with German and Finance Committee head Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home), but not until after all of the other committee members had left the session. She left asking why the other Members had left while health ministry representatives murmured that she was only looking for headlines.

A Cabal of Lobbyists and One MK: Who Will Oversee Natural Gas Extraction in Israel?

On October 28th, The Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee discussed a potential bill that would have a large impact on how profits from Israel’s natural gas output are distributed, in particular the relationship between the state and private companies contracted to extract natural gas. This bill could lead to companies profiting less from future extraction deals, which may explain why only one committee member, Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), showed up to the meeting, while gas companies sent multiple representatives.

Haim Indig, a gas exploration lobbyist, was quoted as staying that his “concern is that this change would give the Commissioner the possibility to influence and obtain things that are not in his area of responsibility. You can not run a partnership like this.” None of the speakers at the committee followed the protocols for speaking at a committee, yet no attempt was made to follow the rules or censor the infracting lobbyists.

The question seems to be less who will be overseeing natural resource partnerships, and more of who will oversee the committee so that its members manage to attend meetings and its protocols are followed.

The Executive Director of the Welfare Ministry Prefers to Blame the Efficiency of Social Workers Instead of Their Number

As part of the Knesset’s “Day for the Struggle Against Poverty,” the Labor, Welfare, and Health committee held a meeting on November 19th to examine the possibility of raising the number of employed social workers, with the the Executive Director of Welfare Ministry in attendance along with four Knesset committee members. The room was nearly filled to capacity, including a sizable contingent of young social workers.

The Head of the Social Workers’ Association, Tzafra Dweck, mentioned the high amount of individual cases that each social workers is given and called for an increase of 1,000 social workers in order to alleviate the problem. Representatives from the Arab Sector declared that the understaffing problem is even more acute in Arab communities.

Yosi Silman, executive director of the Welfare Ministry, the Ministry in charge of all Social Workers in Israel, stated that it was his belief that it is not the number of social workers that is problematic, but rather that there needs be a greater investment in the number of services that they provide, a sentiment that was strongly contested by most of the other participants in the debate.

The eyewitness, a social worker herself, questioned why the man chosen to represent her and her profession held an opinion that seemed to fly in their faces. The meeting ended with a call for follow-up discussions on the subject in the coming months, followed by a call by Professor Michal Kromer, a poverty researcher, for palpable actions to fight poverty, not just words against it by elected officials.


About the Author
Born and raised outside of Wilmington, Delaware, Harris Engelmann currently resides in the Florentin neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv and serves as the Knesset Social Guard's Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator as part of his participation in the NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship.
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