Israeli President Reuven Rivlin attended an official welcome ceremony at the Knesset this afternoon, where he reviewed an honor guard of the Knesset Guard accompanied by Speaker of the 20th Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, and laid a wreath at the memorial for Israel’s fallen soldiers.
The president addressed the special opening session of the 21st Knesset, after which the members of the Knesset were sworn in. The president, accompanied by the prime minister and his wife, the president of the Supreme Court and her husband, the acting speaker of the Knesset and his wife, then gathered in the Knesset’s Chagall State Hall where they took the traditional photograph with the leaders of the parties elected to the Knesset.
Below is the full speech:
“It is an honor to open this first meeting of the 21st Knesset, today Tuesday 30 April 2019, 25 Nissan 5779. My friends, members of the Knesset, my fellow Israeli citizens. When Levi Eshkol was first sworn in as prime minister in 1963, Menachem Begin offered a prayer that is worth repeating today: ‘May the country profit, and may the people benefit. May hatred and vilification subside and may mutual respect increase. May vindictiveness and spite disappear and may rivalry – sharp, but fair and honorable – take its place. May distortion be banished and let truth flourish.
May hard-heartedness be tempered and may comradeship deepen. May hypocrisy be eliminated and may honesty multiply. May there be an end to blandishments, and may civil courage and freedom of thought take their place.’ My dear members of Knesset.
This was a difficult election campaign. We have disparaged and been disparaged. We have distorted. We have worked overtime in the service of delegitimisation, hatred and execration. Now, it’s over. Enough. Time to climb up. To put down the cudgels of elections and to clean up the mess. Political considerations can no longer be the only guide. This is not only what is expected of you, it is what every citizen of Israel demands and requires of you, our leaders, every member of this house.
Honorable friends. The people, the sovereign, spoke in the recent elections. ‘I was young and now I am old’ (Psalms 37:25). I have had the privilege of serving the people from the government and from the opposition. To the members of Knesset who will form the opposition, let me say this: It is a privilege to serve the people from the opposition, and it is a great responsibility.
You asked the people for its support and because you did that, now you must justify the support given to you. When Levi Eshkol was sworn in as prime minister, Begin – the perennial leader of the opposition at that time – said to him: ‘He (Eshkol) must know that we hope to put him and his friends into opposition, and that is not just our right but it is our duty to do so, and the people will decide. If the people gives them enough support in the next elections, we will immediately see it as our obligation to face them from the opposition, until the people – so we believe – decides differently.’
Honorable friends. In democratic elections, the people is never wrong. Democratic decision is the will of the people, and the people is the only sovereign in democracy. The right to serve the people from the opposition is the proof of loyalty to democracy, it is the obligation to criticize and to scrutinize, and it is the challenge and the responsibility to persuade.
Members of Herut know and remember: to be in the desert of opposition requires leadership and patience, it demands vision. One needs to offer something. And one needs partners for the journey. As someone who sat in opposition, I know that one needs to respect the challenge the election results represent. The obligation to persuade and to be persuaded. Not to patronize. Not to decide that the people does not know what it wants, that there is no `people’ or that ‘the people are stupid’. Absolutely not. The people has decided, and it has made a different choice.
I am concerned by the voices I hear, of those who say ‘if we have lost power, then there is nothing for me here’. Being in opposition means the responsibility and the burden of proof falls on me. It is the persuaders who have to make their case out of deep respect to the sovereign, which is the people, and until the people – as Begin said – decides differently. That is the faith placed in you by the many people who supported you and we must all remember, all those sitting here: without opposition, there is no democracy.
To those who will form the next government, let me say this. One should lose gracefully and one should win gracefully. You are not in the opposition. You have held the keys of power and leadership for a long time. As such, your responsibility is to let up on eliminating your opponents, to let up on the feeling of being the victim, and to govern all the citizens and communities who live here with respect and with love.
See your remarkable political achievement and understand its significance, not just in political-sectoral terms, but in its meaning for Israeli society as a whole. We do not want to see such a large section of Israeli people and society feel and worry that it has not only lost a political fight, but that it has lost its place here. The other camp, those in opposition, need to feel that although they lost the battle, they have not lost their place here in this country, that they have not lost their rights in this country, that they have not lost their honor in this country. To a great extent, the responsibility for that falls on you as those who are in power.
From here, I call on all party leaders and members of factions who will be entrusted with ministries and decisions that will be felt in the lives of us all here: do everything you can to enact the policies that got you elected here, but at the same time see and respect the values and beliefs of the losing side. Do you believe a different balance is required? That’s fine. It is not only your right but also your duty to make the policies that got you elected to this house into reality. But do it without gloating, without vengeance. You are not only required to govern, you are also required to have a sense of sovereignty and responsibility for this dear people as a whole, all its tribes and components, that sits on its own land, and whose leaders you are.
Members of the Knesset. Today, 49 new members take their place. I wish you all success and remind you that the eyes of the public are on you. Perform you duty with reverence for those who sent you here. Unfortunately, as I have already remarked, this Knesset will comprise far fewer women than the previous Knesset. Let me express my hope once again that the new Knesset and government will see women ministers and committee chairs, and that the voice of women is heard clearly and strongly on the issues themselves and as a message to the public.
Friends, you face weighty tasks ahead as the incoming government and Knesset, government and opposition alike: strengthening and developing the security and diplomatic standing of the State of Israel in the face of challenges on various fronts and in the face of the opportunities that may present themselves. Narrowing and closing the gaps in our society. Although the flag of socio-economic policy was not raised with great force in the elections, it is the issue that will determine in which direction our ship sails. And finally, the war for ‘us’. Now is the time to fight for our common home where secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Arabs (yes, they are called Arabs and nothing will happen if we say it), right and left, can find themselves equal. Let us remember, we were not doomed to live together, we were destined to live together.
Our socio-economic strength, the partnership amongst us and between us, is the key to our security and diplomatic strength. We are all responsible for that, all of those sitting in this house.
Friends, I cannot conclude my remarks without pleading with you to put an end to the dangerous clash between the legislature and the judiciary. I hope and pray that the 21st Knesset will take the historic decision to enact Basic Law: Legislation as one of the chapters of our future constitution.
We must strengthen the separation of powers, particularly that between the legislature and the judiciary, to maintain the dignity and the independence of each branch of government and to end the overlap and mutual erosion between them. You, members of the Knesset, are in a position to add another vital brick in the wall protecting Israeli democracy and to ensure that the State of Israel continues to flourish as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish state.
Friends. This Knesset is sworn in at the end of Pesach, the holiday which marks our liberation from slavery to freedom, as a people. The Knesset, symbol of our sovereignty, is what signifies the people of Israel becoming a nation, a free people in our land, the State of Israel. From Pesach to swearing in the Knesset, we go from freedom to freedom. I wish us all, friends, that we will be worthy of that freedom, that we will feel secure in ourselves and on our land, secure in the righteousness of our way, and that we will know to be generous and tolerant, as befits free men and women.
It is my honor to hand over the running of this session to the acting Speaker of the Knesset, who has been elected once again as a member of the Knesset, to take the oath. Acting Speaker, Member of Knesset Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, I invite you to take the oath.”