The 20th Knesset in Numbers
The current paper presents data on the parliamentary work of the MKs and parties in the outgoing Knesset. All the information is based on data taken from the Knesset archives and the Knesset’s Research and Information Center which are open to the public
Compared with other parliaments in the world, the Knesset has seen a sharp increase in the number of private member bills submitted since the early 2000s, and this trend was even more keenly seen in the 20th Knesset. A total number of 6,644 bills were proposed, of which only 593 (9%) were passed into law. An deeper examination of the proposals according to submitters revealed extensive disparities in the number of proposals that are actually passed into law: whereas 57% of government bills and 67% of committee bills were passed into law, only 4% of private members bills passed into law. Thus, most of the private member bills remain nothing more than "Bill Declarations", whose main purpose is to generate public and media interest, and not necessarily to generate discussion and certainly not to be passed into law. There are many negative aspects to this practice of proposing thousands of Bills as seen both in the parliamentary sphere and beyond: making a mockery of the value of private member bills; hampering the quality and implementation of the legislation because in many cases, MKs are paying more attention to the quantity and less to the quality of the legislation; wasting the professional human resources of the Knesset and the government; flooding the Knesset committees with private member bills and increasing their work burden; and the inability of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to hold thorough discussions on so many proposals because of the short time allocated to such discussions.
Private Member Bills Proposed and Passed in the 20th Knesset
Compared to previous Knessets, the 20th leads the way in the number of proposed private member bills. The number of such bills that were passed into law has gradually decreased and in the last 7 Knessets it stood at an average of only 5%.
Private Member Bills Proposed and Passed in the 9th to 20th Knesset
In no other democratic parliament does the number of private member bills even approach the numbers seen in the Knesset, as seen in the table below, which shows data taken from various parliaments for the years 2000-2016.
Number of Private Member Bills Proposed in Various Parliaments 2000-2016
One of the oldest and most popular ways of being a watchdog to the Knesset and the government is by submitting parliamentary queries. The Opposition makes most use of this tool since it enables them to table questions and raise issues to ministers. There are three categories of queries: ordinary queries which must be answered in the plenum within 21 days. MKs are permitted to submit up to 30 such queries per session (parliamentary year); direct queries which must be answered in writing within 21 days. MKs are permitted to submit up to 80 such queries per session (parliamentary year); urgent queries which must be answered within the week that it was tabled. The Knesset Speaker authorizes up to four such queries per week. In the 20th Knesset, 5,756 queries were tabled, of which 4,712 (81%) were answered. Among the queries that went unanswered, the majority (18%) were left to be taken care of by the ministries, and for a few of them a date was set for an answer, or the Minister refused to provide an answer (1%). It should be emphasized that the efficiency of this watchdog tool is doubtful because the period of time allowed for providing an answer to a query is too long, especially given the pace of events and fast flow of information in today's era. Moreover, the queries do not have any practical impact on those who are supposed to provide answers. The queries often contain unreliable information (many of them are based on media reports) and the exceedingly large number of queries makes it impossible to relate to them seriously.
Queries Tabled and Answered in the 20th Knesset
MKs who Tabled the Greatest Number of Ordinary Parliamentary Queries in the 20th Knesset
MKs who Tabled the Greatest Number of Direct Parliamentary Queries in the 20th Knesset
The table below shows that until the 20th Knesset came into action, the quantity of queries tabled in the plenum (ordinary queries) decreased. However, from 2015 the use of this tool gradually increased. It is possible that this increase indicates that some of the MKs in the outgoing Knesset showed a greater orientation to be watchdogs.
Number of Queries Tabled in the Plenum between 2003-2017
According to the Knesset's Rules of Procedure, the Knesset committee arranges ten one-hour question and answer meetings per session, when MKs can ask the Prime Minister or any other Minister questions about their realm of responsibility. However, question hour only occurred ten times in the second and third sessions of the Knesset, in the fourth session it took place six times and in the fifth session (until the Knesset was dissolved) it did not take place at all, a finding which demonstrates that the MKs did not take full advantage of this opportunity.
Section 42 of the Basic Law: The Government states that if 40 MKs sign a request, the Knesset is permitted to arrange a debate on a certain issue and require the Prime Minister's attendance. Such requests may only be made once a month. The Knesset rules state that the PM must be present throughout the debate. This is definitely a tool for the Opposition. During the 20th Knesset, only 7 such debates took place, out of many more that Opposition members could have initiated. The result is that the Opposition hardly took advantage of this tool.
Section 28 of the Basic Law: The Government states that the Knesset is permitted to table a no-confidence motion in the Government. This may be done if the majority of MKs (61 and more) vote for no-confidence as part of a fully constructive no-confidence motion. This vote also entails a vote of confidence in an alternative government which presents the fundamental outlines of its policies, its make up and the division of ministries among its members. In the 20th Knesset, the Rules of Procedure were amended, and an ordinance was passed stating that from May 2016, a cap was placed on the number of no-confidence motions the Opposition was allowed to table, and in return, Question Hour in the presence of the Prime Minister and other Ministers was fixed. The Opposition parties tabled a total of 218 no-confidence motions in the Government which were obviously all defeated. A comparison with previous Knessets shows that limiting the number of no-confidence motions that may be tabled did indeed reduce the number.
Number of No-confidence Motions Tabled in the Plenum, 2003-2018
MKs, Ministers, Deputy Ministers who are not MKs, and other officials specified in the Knesset's Rules of Procedure are permitted to give a speech in the plenum on various topics. In the 20th Knesset, Meretz used this tool more than any other party. The average number of speeches given in the plenum by Meretz MKs was the highest, almost five times as much, on average, than Likud and Jewish Home MKs, who were ranked in bottom place.
Average Number of Speeches for MK's per Party in the 20th Knesset*
MKs who Spoke the Greatest Number of Times in the Plenum in the 20th Knesset
On Monday and Tuesday mornings, MKs may speak in the plenum for no more than one minute on any subject of their choice. Use of this tool, which is not capped in quantity, can be used by any MK so long as they do not exceed the time limit or do not speak more than once in each sitting. Although these speeches are not necessarily a watchdog tool, and MKs who serve as ministers or deputy ministers can also take advantage of this option, nevertheless members of the Opposition parties used this tool to a very great extent in the 20th Knesset.
Average Number of One-minute Speeches per MK per Party in the 20th Knesset
Of the ten MKS who gave the most one-minute speeches, five are members of the Joint List (the party whose members used this tool more often than any other party) and only one is a member of the coalition (Anat Berko).
The number of queries raised in the plenum between 2003-2017.
MKs who Gave the Greatest Number of One-minute Speeches in the 20th Knesset
The following chart shows that the number of one-minute speeches given in the 20th Knesset was far higher in comparison to previous Knessets. In general, a gradual increase in the use of this tool has been seen since 2003.
One-minute Speeches in the Plenum, 2003-2018
MKs not serving as ministers or deputy ministers may propose the inclusion of any subject in the Knesset's agenda. Although MKs table motions for the agenda in a personal capacity, there is a cap on the number of ordinary motions that each party may table (in each session, the Knesset committee fixes this number). In addition, MKs may place a request with the Knesset presidium for their motion to be tabled as an urgent motion for the agenda (only one such urgent motion per week may be authorized per MK). As opposed to ordinary motions, urgent motions are excluded from the number of motions allocated to each party, and the Knesset presidium determines the permitted number.
Dov Khenin of the Joint List made the greatest use of this tool (as well as giving the greatest number of speeches in the plenum).
MKs who Proposed the Greatest Number of Motions for the Agenda in the 20th Knesset
The Ethics Committee functions on the authority of Section 13d of the Law of Immunity of Knesset Members, their Rights and Obligations, 1951. Four MKs who are appointed by the Speaker of the Knesset sit on this committee – two each from coalition and opposition parties. The Speaker also appoints the chairperson. Committee members give both ethical guidance to MKs and guidelines and responses to queries from MKs in matters of ethics, as well as judging MKs for failing to obey rules of ethics or for ethical infringement of laws, including illegally holding another position, exceeding the number of permitted days of absence from the plenum, or failure to declare capital. The committee also approves MKs trips abroad that are not financed by the Knesset or self-financed, such as travelling to give a lecture or participate in a conference. Within the framework of its responsibility, the Ethics Committee may place various sanctions on a Knesset member. These sanctions include a comment, an admonition, a reprimand, or a severe reprimand. Similarly, the committee may place restrictions on a Knesset member’s parliamentary activity.
In the 20th Knesset, the Ethics Committee found it necessary to punish 29 MKs, some of whom were punished more than once. A total of 48 punishments were handed out, 12 of which were suspension from the plenum for periods ranging from ten days to six months, and nine suspensions of salary for periods ranging from one day to one week. In addition, the committee also handed out punishments of admonitions and severe reprimands. Six of these punishments were handed out to MKs serving as ministers. Two of these six were given for failing to attend the plenum for the minimum number of times that members of the government are obliged.
We believe that suspension of an MK's parliamentary activity is the most serious punishment, because it prevents them from fulfilling the very essence of their position – serving the public. During the 20th Knesset, seven MKs were given this punishment. The three MKs suspended for the longest time were: Oren Hazan of the Likud party (total of 37 weeks), Basel Ghattas of the Joint List (total of 26 weeks) and Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List (total of 13 weeks). Ayman Odeh and Hanin Zoabi, of the Joint List, and Stav Shafir and Michal Rozin of the Zionist Union were each suspended for one week.
The article was published in Times of Israel.