Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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25 Sivan 5759 - June 9, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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15th Knesset Holds Its First Session

by E. Rauchberger and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 Shas.

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 legislators.

``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 session.

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 time.

The next meeting of the Knesset is scheduled for Tuesday June 15.

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