Coronavirus fears hover over Israel’s Knesset swearing-in

The Knesset's traditional swearing-in ceremony is being scaled down, as Israel closes schools through the Passover holiday.

al-monitor Members of the 22nd Knesset, the Israeli parliament, stand during their swearing-in ceremony, in Jerusalem Oct. 3, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Mar 12, 2020

Fears about the spread of the novel coronavirus have permeated Israel in recent days, and are now reaching the Knesset. The traditional festive swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli parliament, scheduled for March 16, will be replaced by a small gathering, with guests excluded.

The decision to limit the swearing in of the 23rd Knesset was taken against the backdrop of a steep rise in the number of Israelis infected with COVID-19 to 109. The overall emergency mode across Israel forced the Knesset’s ceremony department to come up with new solutions.

On March 11, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 100 people. Subsequently, all sports and cultural events were immediately canceled. Theaters and cinemas closed doors, and even private events such as weddings were limited to small crowds. Instructions were further toughened March 12. Authorities instructed some 100 hotels to shut down and announced that, as of March 13, all schools will be closed for a month until after the Passover-April holidays.

What’s next? With Israel mired in a deep political crisis, the Knesset’s swearing-in ceremony was expected to draw much international attention. Israeli legislation stipulates that the new Knesset must be sworn in two weeks exactly after general elections, so the ceremony was scheduled for March 16. Traditionally, hundreds of guests, including ambassadors, former Knesset members, media and decision-makers are invited to the event, but due to the coronavirus, no outside guests will be present this time. Each new Knesset member might be allowed to invite one family member — and even that remains to be decided at the very last moment. The cocktail usually held right after in the Knesset’s reception hall was also canceled. In order to respect the 100-people ban, the Knesset speaker will call up groups of 20 or 40 Knesset members each time to be sworn in. Consultations are taking place right now to discuss the possibility of delaying the ceremony, though the Knesset speaker and party leaders would rather avoid such a dramatic decision.

The coronavirus crisis has reached Israel as the country also confronts a political crisis, with the form of the coming government still unknown. This situation is pushing elements within the ruling Likud party and its top rival Blue and White to consider the establishment of a national unity government. Both parties are now busy sending feelers out to weigh the feasibility of such an option.

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