The collapse of the Versailles reception hall and the
resulting tragedy has caused considerable anxiety within
government ranks. Municipal authorities went into a panic
and began inspecting reception halls and other public
facilities within their jurisdictions. No mayor wants to be
accused of failing to learn the lessons of the Versailles
tragedy or to face charges of negligence after a similar
disaster takes place in his city.
Government offices have also gone into damage-control mode.
They have issued instructions to have buildings inspected
and to comb them for any possible problems. The big question
is whether the conclusions drawn will have a long-term
effect or whether this is to be merely a short-lived
By setting up a government committee to investigate the
tragedy and all of the licensing and construction procedures
for public facilities across the country--including schools--
the government is demonstrating that someone really has
woken up and realized that the time has come to put an end
to all of the stopgap measures and wheeler-dealer
arrangements found in every department of each and every
Meanwhile the Knesset has also decided to undergo an
inspection itself. The Knesset Building is five stories high
and includes a large hall, a visitors' gallery and a VIP
gallery. These galleries seat hundreds and are packed with
people during special events; it really would be advisable
to have them checked.
Knesset Chairman Yossi Katz announced that a special
consultant would be called in to conduct a safety inspection
of the Knesset very soon. He says periodic safety checks
have been conducted and so far no structural defects have
been found, but since the Versailles tragedy increased
public awareness about structural defects, he decided to
order a special safety inspection.
Katz also wanted to find out whether the Knesset had been
built using the Pal-Kal method, which was used in the design
of the floor of the Versailles hall. Following an initial
inspection it appears that this method was not used in the
construction of the Knesset.
Two years ago the ceiling of the plenum hall above the MKs'
seats was inspected and found to be safe. Nevertheless it
has been scheduled for a new check during the upcoming
The Home Front
Two weeks ago the Knesset plenum addressed a series of
proposals regarding ties between left-wing MKs and the
Palestinian Authority, including meetings and visits MKs
have held with top PA officials and Yasser Arafat, which
right-wing MKs call damaging to the State of Israel.
Rabbi Moshe Gafni also participated in this discussion,
saying although he is in favor of holding political talks
with the Palestinians, today we are in a state of war, a
situation in which the slightest wrong move could cause
bloodshed, and therefore it is inappropriate for Jewish MKs,
even if they are part of the opposition, to meet with the
Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
"We are not in a state of peace with him. There are rules
dictating how a democratic state operates. There is a
government and an opposition, and the opposition has the
ability to confront the Knesset and the public," said Rabbi
Gafni, emphasizing that in his opinion, if the opposition
chairman does meet with the enemy leader or, for example,
turns to the President of the United States during time of
war, such as the current situation, this is indicative of a
state of anarchy.
But his main message was saved for the end, when he
recounted instructions given to him by HaRav Shach shlita
during the Rabin-Meretz government, which are relevant to
the issue of ties with Yasser Arafat. These instructions, he
says, should be instituted as a model for all relations.
"My teacher HaRav Shach, shlita, is in favor of advancing
the political peace process. This goes without saying.
During that government a meeting involving chilul
Shabbos was scheduled with Yasser Arafat. We tried to
prevent the chilul Shabbos, but were unsuccessful. We
were the opposition, fighting even harder than the Likud. I
told him I could try to talk with Arafat and perhaps he
would be willing to prevent the chilul Shabbos. HaRav
Shach, shlita, told me that the State has its own
system of government and organization. Israel has a
government, a government to which we are now in the
opposition. Do everything in your power to prevent chilul
Shabbos, he said, but you do not have the right to turn
to Arafat and ask him for help. Fight here at home, not out
"This," says Rabbi Gafni, "is what I say to the Left as
well. This also applies to issues you believe in, and which
I might believe in as well, but [it must be carried out]
through accepted means in order to prevent a situation of
total anarchy, which could cause further bloodshed."
Looking Out for Number One--Yet Again
From time to time MKs try to work for their own good. Every
few months we hear about some new benefit MKs have arranged
for themselves -- at the public's expense of course.
Sometimes it's a large increase, sometimes a relatively
small increase, but invariably it is an extension of their
entitlements, in one form or another. Occasionally--as was
the case with cell-phone calls not long ago--MK benefits and
rights are actually reduced.
Members of Knesset have the right to send mail free of
charge. There was no quantity restriction until a few years
ago when Ra'anan Cohen, then serving as an MK and now a
minister, sent hundreds of thousands of letters in one month
and the public reaction forced MKs to limit the amount of
mail they are allowed send monthly and annually.
Not long ago the House Committee instituted an additional
postal benefit for MKs. Until now MKs were not charged
postage if their mail was sent from the Knesset post office.
According to the recent House Committee decision, MKs will
no longer be required to send their mail from the Knesset
branch, but will able to send 5% of their letters from any
post office branch anywhere in the country.
Presumably MKs do not send only work-related mail, but send
private letters as well. It is also likely that MKs' family
members take advantage of their father or husband's postal
privileges. If you can send it for free, why pay? Only until
now the MK had to carry his family's mail in his briefcase,
and if it was a large parcel, it was liable to be a real
Now, following the change made by the House Committee,
family members will no longer have to bother Daddy. All they
need to do is to stock up on MK envelopes and then slip
their letters into the nearest mailbox.
The Party Ends for New Parties
New parties generally begin as a legal, nonpolitical
association and then, as elections draw near, they transform
themselves into political parties and run for the Knesset.
That is what the Center Party did before the last elections
and what other parties have done as well.
The reason for this is simple enough. Political parties are
subject to the Political Parties Law, which includes
financing restrictions, limitations on the amount and means
of collecting contributions in Israel and abroad, and more.
A party cannot manage its finances as it pleases, but must
comply with the law and submit financial statements to the
state comptroller. If the comptroller finds any
irregularities in the party's money management or
accounting, it will have to pay the price in the form of
However, this does not apply to associations which are
allowed to operate freely, with almost no restrictions. An
association can raise unlimited funds, use money to cover
expenses that a party cannot and need not file a financial
statement, neither to the comptroller nor to anyone else.
For these reasons every party chooses to begin as an
association. It raises money, channels contributions into
the association's bank account, builds its reputation and
maximizes exposure and then, just before the deadline for
submitting names to the Central Election Committee, it
declares itself a political party with the same name as the
association, which has now gained wide recognition (as was
the case with the Center Party). At this point all of the
restrictions apply, but who cares? Everything that needs to
be done that would be a violation of the Parties Law has
already been taken care of as an association, and everything
is above board.
The Knesset Legal Committee had to be brought in to redress
this breach and has approved a bill to ameliorate the
situation. According to the proposal by Yossi Paritzky, a
nine-month cooling-off period will be required for
associations that want to transform into parties. Usually
the association does massive fundraising during the months
preceding the elections and generates public awareness under
the name later adopted by the party. This is what the bill
seeks to prevent. An association that wants to collect money
for the elections would still be able to do so, but would be
required to become a party nine months before the
Paritzky also wants to require every association that turned
into a party to change its name, but this sanction was not
approved. Legal Committee Chairman Ofir Pines maintains that
a party should not be completely barred from beginning its
activity as an association, and when it elects to change
into a party, including changing its name, all of the
restrictions of the Political Parties Law should then