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Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary
Knesset   Definition

Knesset - (Hebrew - a feminine noun literally meaning gathering) The Israeli Parliament or legislature, consisting of 120 representatives of different political parties. The name is derived from the "Knesset Hagadolah" (large assembly) , the representative Jewish council created in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth century B.C.E.

Successive elections produce successive knesset assemblies, numbered according to the number of the election, just as is done for the US congress. The first Israeli Knesset was elected on January 25, 1949 and was originally called the "constituent assembly." The members met for the first time on February 14, 1949 and voted to change the name to "Knesset" two days later. The Knesset did not have a permanent home until 1966. The  first meetings of the Constituent Assembly were held in the Jewish Agency, in Jerusalem. From arch 8, 1949-December 14, 1949, the Knesset met in the Kessem Cinema in Tel Aviv, and then from  December 26, 1949-March 8, 1950 it met in the  Jewish Agency, Jerusalem. and from March 13, 1950, it met in the  1950: Froumine Building, on King George Street, Jerusalem. In 1958, the cornerstone of a permanent knesset building was laid in Givat Ram in Jerusalem, on land leased from the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. The new building was completed August 31, 1966, and has since been modified and renovated a few times.

 A quaint Arab world rumor claims that the roof of the Knesset displays a map of "Greater Israel" showing its borders on the Euphrates river. Of course, there is no such map.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The Israeli Knesset is elected by universal suffrage by citizens of all faiths and ethnic orientations, who select a party list. The lists of candidates are submitted by each party in the order in which the candidates will be allowed seats in the Knesset.  The representatives are chosen in proportion to the number of votes received by each party. The leader of the party that has the best chance of forming a coalition is charged with forming a new government and becomes the Prime Minister. To stabilize the political system, the current election law states that a government can only be dismissed if there are 61 Knesset members (MK) who agree on a different candidate to replace the Prime Minister.  Elections are held every four years or whenever the government is voted out of office.  

A popular misconception is that Israeli Arabs are not allowed to vote. Actually there are three Arab parties with 10 representatives in the current Knesset, and Arabs also vote for other parties. There is currently an Arab minister in the Israeli government as well.

The Knesset is sometimes characterized by colorful and impolite debates, but sessions are often poorly attended by members, who may be doing the "real work" of governing in the Knesset cafeteria or in the various committees.

The plenum ("Mleyaht Haknesset"), is formally the supreme authority of the house. It has two annual sittings of at least eight months' duration in total, together forming a "session."  The Knesset can also  be convened in additional special sessions if thirty members demand such a meeting in writing or if the government request it. Resolutions of the plenum are usually adopted if accepted by a simple majority of participating MKs, except for cases in which a special majority is required.

The plenum elects the Speaker of the Knesset and one or more deputy speakers. Deliberations, presided over by the Speaker or a Deputy Speaker, are open to the media and the public. The agenda of Knesset meetings is set by the speaker in accordance with government proposals. One meeting each week is set aside for consideration of private members' bills. Every day that the Knesset is in session, time is reserved for ministers to reply to questions.

In practice, as in most parliamentary democracies,  the government presents most of the legislation and can usually muster a majority by enforcing coalition discipline.

Knesset plenum sessions include general debates on proposes laws or other questions, motions   for the agenda, parliamentary questions (Sheiltot), and motions of no confidence. General debates are held on bills or general matters of a political or other nature. Debates on proposed laws conclude with a vote; debates on general matters may end without voting. A motion for the agenda is a preliminary debate concerning the inclusion of an issue raised by an MK on the Knesset agenda.

A parliamentary question can be asked by an MK of a minister on ministry affairs, to draw the attention of the Government and the public to an issue that, in the presenter's opinion, needs corrective action. Parliamentary questions are presented in writing or orally, and the minister must reply in the Knesset plenum within a set period of time. Since 1984, oral parliamentary questions have also been allowed; these must be replied to within two days, at which time members of other Knesset factions may ask additional questions.

Any party or combination of parties may submit a motion of no confidence in the Government.  The Knesset must vote on the motion at its first meeting during the week following submission of the motion. If the motion gets an absolute majority (61 votes) the government functions in a caretaker capacity until a new Government is established.

The Government is the sponsor of most legislation, but any MK can propose a law,, known as a "private member's bill." Bills go through three readings. The first reading and vote decides if the proposed law is accepted and referred to the appropriate committee, removed from the Knesset, or returned to the Government if it is a government proposal. If the bill is accepted, it goes to a committee for the resolution of details.

Much of the real business of the Knesset is handled in committees. The Knesset has 12  committees: House (or Knesset) Committee, dealing with the Knesset agenda; Finance; Economics; Defense and Foreign Affairs; Interior and Environment; Immigration and Absorption; Education and Culture; Constitution, Law, and Justice; Labor and Social Affairs; Public Audit (Control); War against Drug Affliction and Advancing the Status of Women.

Committee chairpersons are chosen by their members, on the recommendation of the House Committee, and their factional composition resembles that of the Knesset itself. Committees may elect subcommittees and delegate powers to them. They may also establish joint committees for issues concerning more than one committee. In addition to their legislative function, the committees discuss government regulations or any matter referred to them by the plenum. To further their deliberations they invite government ministers, senior officials, and experts in the matters being discussed. Committees may require explanation and information from relevant ministers in any matter within their competence, and the ministers, or persons appointed by them, must provide the explanation or information requested.

The committee may propose as many amendments as it wishes, as long as the general topic of the bill is not impaired. The committee then returns the amended bill to the plenum for a second reading, where the deliberations and voting take place on each section separately. In the third and final reading, the bill is presented in its final form, as adopted in the second reading. While most Knesset votes are by show of hands, certain cases are resolved by secret ballot or by roll-call vote. The Twelfth Knesset was the first to institute electronic voting.

MKs have lifetime personal immunity from prosecution for votes, acts committed, or opinions expressed in the course of duty.  During their term of office, they are also immune from a search of their homes or bodies (except for customs' checks) and are not subject to arrest unless caught in the commission of a violent crime, disturbance of the peace, or treason. This immunity is usually removed if there is a suspicion of criminal activity. 

Knesset - Israel legislature

The Knesset building at Givat Ram

 


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Knesseth

Further Information:  Political System, Israel


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 

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