Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Politica - Knesset to Undergo Inspection

by E. Rauchberger

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 reaction.

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 municipality.

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 inspection.

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 there.

"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 inconvenience.

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 fines.

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 elections.

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 apply.

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