The Knesset building, Jerusalem, Israel, November 22, 2007. (Chris Yunker/Creative Commons)

Opposition: Not a Goal but No Shame Either

Anything but to be a simple Knesset member, especially not in the opposition. That’s the spirit that came from the coalition negotiations between Binyamin Netanyahu and Benjamin Gantz. Knesset members who have never written, let alone passed, a single piece of legislation fell over themselves to accept any job in the oversized government that was formed. Any position, however ludicrous, was preferable to serving as a simple Knesset member.

That approach said a lot about the status of the Knesset – our parliament that our government has trampled – but it said much more about a lack of understanding and respect for the role of a Knesset member.

After serving just under two years as deputy finance minister, with significant power and authority in my hands, I and my colleagues were thrown into the opposition. Since then, I’ve spent the past five years serving as a member of the Knesset Finance Committee and I can say, without a doubt, that I was able to make a greater contribution and have more influence in that role than any of the new ministers or deputy ministers in made-up ministries will have. Ministries with names like “Intelligence” and “Strategic Affairs” may sound impressive but they are hollow and their ministers have no real work to do.

Being a Knesset member is harder work, but through that hard work and using all the parliamentary tools available, I have succeeded in advancing a host of issues. I have changed, delayed and prevented government decisions that would have a damaging effect on our economy and I have raised issues that the government simply overlooked. Most importantly, I was able to help assist ordinary citizens – from saving factories in the north and south of Israel that were in danger of closing to assisting hospitals plagued by deficits to forcing the government to protect local industries to expanding income tax deductions for single-parent families and the self-employed.

It requires time and effort working in the committees as well as professionalization in specific fields. It requires understanding all the tools and powers that Knesset members have at their disposal. Real parliamentary work often isn’t glamorous and many choose cheap populism instead of hard work but that only pays off in the short term. In the long run, cheap gimmicks damage your reputation and prevent you from having real influence.

The race to take hollow cabinet positions shows a lack of awareness of the centers of power in the political arena. The cabinet may make decisions but you need the Knesset to make those decisions work. And in order to legislate, Knesset members must be familiar with the procedures and willing to do Sisyphean parliamentary work. Committees have the power to amend law, lead public discussion and shine light on areas that the government would rather remain dark.

Unfortunately because of the bloated size of the government, Benny Gantz doesn’t have enough Knesset members to do the job and the ones he does have lack the necessary experience. Gantz and his party will pay a high political price for underestimating the importance of the Knesset; it’s a mistake their coalition partners would never make.

Only the Knesset can stop the damaging actions of this government. While Netanyahu continues to rail against our judicial system and law enforcement agencies and to push his agenda, Gantz now has neither the interest nor the tools to fight back. Yesh Atid will stand in opposition to the corruption, wastefulness and arrogance of this government. We will provide an alternative to Netanyahu and, when the next elections come around, sooner than many people think, we’ll be ready.

Until then, we’ll serve the people of Israel as Knesset members with the good of the public always at the forefront of everything we do. And we’ll do it with our heads held high and our principles intact.

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