"Compared to the Knesset it could have been, this is a very good Knesset!"
I heard this, in so many words, from at least 10 former Knesset members and others, as we were drinking orange juice in the Knesset foyer. I could have said it myself (and probably did).
It was the opening session of the new Knesset, and former members were invited to a reception with the new ones. Then we were seated in the plenum hall.
I did not attend the last few times, but this time I was curious to see the new members -- 49 out [of] 120, an unprecedented number -- some of whom I had never even heard of before.
It was really a good sight. Some of the new people were leaders of the social protest movement of summer 2011, some investigative reporters from the media, some social workers. Some fascists remained, but the worst were gone.
The change was not large enough to make me jump into the air from sheer joy, but enough to be glad. Beggars cannot be choosers.
* * *
It was a ceremonious occasion, with trumpets and all. Up to a point.
Unlike the British, Jews have no talent for pomp and circumstance. Real Jewish synagogues -- not the Western European copies of Catholic churches -- are quite chaotic.
In my 10 years in the Knesset, I took part in many "festive" sessions, in honor of this or that historic event or personality, and not one of them was really uplifting. We just haven't got it.
This one was no exception. The President of the State, Shimon Peres, who enjoys much respect abroad but very little in Israel, arrived with an escort of motorcyclists and horse riders, trumpets sounded. He entered the building, made a dull speech full of platitudes. So did the oldest Knesset member (a youngster of a mere 77 years, 12 years younger than I.)
Many members were dressed casually, in shirt sleeves or sweaters. Few wore ties. Very Israeli. During the speeches, members wandered in and out. All the Arab members left immediately after being sworn in, with Hanin Zuabi in the lead, before Hatikvah, the national anthem, was intoned.
* * *
For the new members it was, of course, a day of deep emotion. I remember my own first day. It was exciting indeed.
Looking at Ya'ir Lapid, I could not refrain from thinking about the superficial similarity between him and myself at the time. We were both elected as heads of completely new parties we had founded. I was 42, the youngest member at the time, and he is 49. We were both journalists by profession. Neither of us has a matriculation certificate. Our voters came from exactly the same sector of the population: Israeli-born, well educated and well positioned Ashkenazi young people.
Yet there the similarity ends. I represented a tiny faction, his is the second largest. I brought with me a revolutionary new outlook for Israel -- peace, a Palestinian state next to Israel, separation of religion and state, equality for Arab and Eastern Jewish citizens. He brings a cocktail of pious slogans.
Nevertheless, the first day in the Knesset is like the first day at school. Exciting. Every new member brought with him his whole family, with the children in their best clothes, to gaze down from the gallery at father or mother sitting below in this proud company.
In this first meeting, members old and new are not allowed to say anything, except the two words "I undertake" (to serve the State of Israel). If I may be permitted to indulge for a moment in memories: I was determined to make my mark and present my message on the very first day. Studying the Knesset statutes, I discovered a loophole. I demanded to move a motion for the election of the new speaker, and had to be called to the rostrum. So I made my first speech right there: a proposal to appoint an Arab speaker in order to symbolize the equality of all citizens. David Ben-Gurion, who, as the oldest member, served as temporary speaker, looked at me with wonderment mixed with distaste, an expression immortalized in a rare photo.
* * *
When it was over and Binyamin Netanyahu stood up, like all of us, a curious thing happened: Ya'ir Lapid jumped from his seat, ran up to him and embraced him. It was more than a casual gesture.
As I have said before, Lapid's future depends on his now making the right decisions regarding his role in the new coalition and his terms of joining. Tension is in the air. The minimum Lapid needs to satisfy his voters is well beyond the maximum Netanyahu can politically afford to give him.
To strengthen his hand, Lapid has ganged up with Naftali Bennett, in order to keep the orthodox factions out. The manifest aim is to compel the orthodox to serve in the army.