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Inside Story at the Knesset

Shimon Breitkopf

Shimon Breitkopf, Mishpacha’s Knesset correspondent, takes us through the Knesset, providing the colors and cadences of an MK’s workday that rarely make it to the headlines

Monday, October 02, 2017

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On our virtual visit to the Knesset, we’ll focus less on those official venues familiar to anyone following Israeli news, and more on the caucus rooms, corners, and cubbyholes (Photo: Flash 90)

M ost Israelis think of the Knesset as the place where politicians yell blistering insults at each other from the podium. But the building has many caucus rooms, corners and cubbyholes far from the public eye where much of the real legislative work takes place — along with the requisite kibitzing and self-promotion. Shimon Breitkopf, Mishpacha’s Knesset correspondent, takes us through the Knesset, providing a look at those colors and cadences of an MK’s workday that rarely make it to the headlines.

Being a legislator is truly a thankless job. Mark Twain is said to have quipped, “If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?” Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev opined, “Politicians are the same all over — they promise to build bridges, even where there are no rivers.” And Will Rogers famously said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

Despite the ridicule and criticism that comes with the job, the title of Member of Knesset (MK) still carries quite a bit of power and prestige, and the sprawling Knesset building in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram has no end of visitors — including quite a few chareidi youngsters. Pull one of these bright students aside and chat them up, and you might find they can tell you the name of the deputy speaker of the Third Knesset in their sleep. (Get the names of these kids; you may be speaking to future MKs.)

On our virtual visit to the Knesset, we’ll focus less on those official venues familiar to anyone following Israeli news, and more on the caucus rooms, corners, and cubbyholes that sound the true tenor of the Knesset workday.

Shining Box on a Hill — The Knesset building

The Knesset building was inaugurated more than 50 years ago. It has since tripled in size, and now has wings jutting in every direction, with plans for more in the pipeline.

In the past, MKs had to share offices, and their aides would make do with whatever other space was available, primarily by standing in the corridors. Those primitive days are blessedly over. A massive renovation has resulted in dozens of new offices and greatly expanded space. Today, every MK is allocated a suite with two rooms, a bathroom, shower, and sitting area. Committee chairmen and cabinet members are, of course, apportioned much larger rooms.

The induction of each new Knesset sparks a fresh round of squabbling over this precious real estate. The choicest offices are those closest to the plenum — the main hall where the entire Knesset sits in assembly when in session. During the last renovation project, bickering focused on the distribution of the newer offices, which were dubbed the “Hiltons.” Fierce arguments erupted over who would get the upscale accommodations.

Besides the forums for official action in the plenum and the committee rooms, the Knesset has a number of loci for informal gatherings: the cafeteria (one milchig, one fleishig), the MKs’ cafeteria, the faction rooms, the smoking balconies, and more. We’ll try to get to them all. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 680)

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