With a record 15 parties Israel's 15th Knesset convened on
Monday for its inaugural session. 119 Knesset members
declared their fealty and officially took office. MK Beiga
Shochet was hospitalized and could not come.
42 were new to the Knesset although five of these had served
in the past. The Knesset officials and the media had some
trouble identifying so many new faces. Some of the new
members had instant celebrity, including Avigdor Leiberman,
Tommy Lapid and Achmad Tibi. Attention was also focused on
the seven new Shas members.
President Ezer Weizman opened the session and then turned the
podium over to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres who, as the
oldest legislator, presided over the session as acting
speaker. Peres and other legislators were slated to meet this
week to discuss what limited forms of business should come
before the Knesset until Barak's government is approved.
After being sworn in, Peres swore in the other 119 Knesset
members, each of whom took the pledge of office separately.
Among them was Barak, who seemed very happy. He has another
month before presenting his government for legislative
approval. Barak spent time with the delegates from UTJ and
Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also took the
oath. He had previously announced he was resigning his
Knesset seat, but he subsequently had to postpone his
departure until Barak presents his Cabinet. According to the
law he must remain in office until the new Prime Minister
officially takes the reigns of power.
Hard-line legislators heckled Dr. Achmad Tibi, who formerly
served as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's
adviser on Israeli affairs, when he took the oath of office
for his first Knesset term.
Tibi later made a show of not singing Hatikvah with the other
``I'm not a Jew. It speaks of a Jewish heart beating,'' Tibi
explained later. ``It's a pretty melody, but the words mean
nothing to me.''
The six Knesset members of the Shinui faction immediately
proposed two very anti-religious laws.
The first seeks to anchor the drafting of yeshiva students in
the law. The second proposal is for a Basic Law of Freedom of
Religion which would legitimize civil marriages, recognition
of the Reform and other things.
The chairman of Shinui, MK Tommy Lapid, said that since both
of these issues constituted Shinui's calling card in the
elections, it deems it fitting to propose these the laws
already on the opening day of the Knesset, so that all would
know that this is Shinui's plan of action for the forthcoming
He noted that although it is clear that according to the
rules it is still impossible to deliberate on these
proposals, they were filed so that they will be ready and at
hand for discussion in the Knesset plenum at the appropriate
The next meeting of the Knesset is scheduled for Tuesday June