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Lessons from my first term as a Knesset member

MK's are human beings, coalition politics require compromise and Yesh Atid still managed to deliver on some of its promises

My first session as a member of Knesset concluded last week. We are still busy on a daily basis with special committee hearings, requests from citizens, and meetings to prepare for next session. However, the daily schedule does not have the same intensity that we experienced while in session, thus giving us time to reflect upon the past six months. 

When I think about the lessons that I learned in my first session in Knesset, they can be divided into several parts. The first relates to members of Knesset. Citizens outside the Knesset tend to dehumanize MK’s with whom they disagree. We turn them into the devil, anti-Semites, and worse. I have come to know these people on a very human level. I may disagree with them and, in some cases, do so very strongly, but they are people. Good people who truly believe that what they are saying and doing is best for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I have learned to separate between ideological disagreements and personal judgments and I hope that non-parliamentarians can learn to do the same.

The second lesson relates to the first. There is a lot more cooperation between parties and between the government and coalition than citizens outside the Knesset realize. At times, just a few minutes after MK’s are screaming at each other in the plenum, they can be found sitting and working together or even laughing together on the couches in the room behind the plenum where we can drink coffee and take a break from the debates and votes. This is also where we join together for prayer services. At times, just moments after heated debates, members of United Torah Judaism, Shas, Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua, Yesh Atid, Likud Beiteinu, and Labor join together to pray. Working together, praying together, and heated public debates are all part of the package as members of parliament and it is critical that citizens of the State learn to do the same – work together and respect those with whom we disagree.

The third lesson relates to coalition politics. All parties that run for election promise a platform to voters. No one party has enough mandates to form a government without joining a coalition with other parties. This, by definition, means that no party can fulfill all of its agenda and may, at times, have to actually vote against some of its campaign promises. This does not turn the party or its ministers and MK’s into corrupt entities and individuals. It does not turn anyone into liars. It is the reality of our governmental system which requires compromise. Every party, minister, and MK must decide which red lines make it impossible to continue voting along with the government or to perhaps, even leave the government. But, not fulfilling ALL promises does not reflect a lack of truth. Rather, it reflects politics and often, very wise politics. 

As an example, I am amazed at how many goals from my party’s platform have been fulfilled in less than half a year. Yesh Atid committed to establishing a law to create equality in national service and our law passed its first reading. The laws include some elements which were not part of our platform – in order to bring coalition parties on board – but is remarkably close to our campaign platform.

We campaigned on plans to overhaul education, and Yesh Atid Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron is hard at work making major changes to improve the education system. Some of these reforms are already in place for this coming school year while others will go into effect in the future. This was one of the reasons why we were prepared to go to the opposition if our party did not receive the education ministry. We promised to make these changes and control of the ministry was the only way to insure that they would come into fruition.

Our platform included electoral reform. The law reducing the number of ministers and raising the election threshold already passed its first reading. During the campaign we promised raising the threshold from two percent to six percent. The law which raises the threshold to four percent does not fulfill that completely but this is an example of coalition politics. In the end, after the law goes through committee, the threshold may likely be raised to just three percent. But, at least, a change has been made. We will continue to work towards our ultimate goal but we are very satisfied with the progress seen in this law and we will vote in favor. 

Housing reform was a major focus of ours during the campaign as well. While we did not end up with control over either the Housing ministry or the Interior ministry, Minister Yair Lapid sits at the head of a special housing cabinet. This entity will coordinate between various ministries to enact reform, including construction of 150,000 low cost rentals which we promised during the campaign and changing the criteria for housing subsidies from “veterans of marriage” to those who are best prepared for joining the workforce – army veterans and university graduates. 

We indeed made other promises during the elections which we have not yet fulfilled. We also accomplished things such as women on the committee to elect rabbinic judges, increased financial assistance for Holocaust survivors, and an increase in equal opportunities for special needs children, which were not specifically in our campaign platform. In some situations,coalition politics demands voting for laws which may seem to run counter to our platform. But, as I have learned as a part of the process from within, in each case it was done with the understanding of what we are accomplishing by remaining in the government and what damage would be done policy-wise if we would leave the government. 

All of the observations above fill me with optimism. We have a government replete with good people who truly care and are willing to work together to make this country great. The system must certainly undergo changes and mistakes are made from which we must learn and then correct. However, the system does function and tremendous progress is made on a daily basis. 

I must conclude by stating that despite the daily challenges, serving in the Knesset is a great honor. I wake up every day with energy to work hard and make a difference and go to sleep tired at night with a feeling of satisfaction at the day’s accomplishments. Every day, as the car turns the corner and I see the Knesset building in front of my eyes, I am filled with awe regarding the serious responsibility which I have accepted. I also thank God for the opportunity which has been afforded to me and I re-dedicate myself to using this role to lead our country to a better future, to generate greater unity and to sanctify His name. 

About the Author
Dov Lipman was elected to the 19th Knesset in January 2013. He is the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel, and holds rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a masters in education from Johns Hopkins University. He has been at the forefront of combating religious extremism in Israel and is a leader in efforts to create Jewish unity both in Israel and around the world. Former MK Lipman is invited to speak on behalf of the Jewish state both in Israel and around the world and serves as a political commentator for i24 News and ILTV. He currently serves as Senior Manager - Community Outreach for Honest Reporting.