Written on September, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted institutions worldwide, forcing them to adapt to new ways of working. The Knesset, the Parliament of Israel, was no exception, as it needed to find innovative solutions to continue its parliamentary work while adhering to public health guidelines. In this essay, we will discuss the digital adjustments made by the Knesset to maintain transparency, accessibility, and continuity during the pandemic.
Continuity, Transparency, and Public Health
The Knesset’s primary objectives during the pandemic were to ensure the continuity of the institution, maintain transparency through live broadcasting, and adhere to public health guidelines such as social distancing and gathering restrictions. The parliament had to strike a balance between these objectives while still enabling the democratic process.
Adjustments in Committee Sessions
In response to the Covid-19 guidelines, the Knesset made several adjustments to its committee sessions. A maximum of 10 people were allowed in one room, necessitating the division of sessions into two rooms connected via videoconference and Zoom equipment. External participants were required to join the discussion remotely through Zoom. The feeds from both rooms and the Zoom application were integrated into a single broadcast field, ensuring transparency and accessibility for the public.
Changes in the Plenary
The Knesset also made significant adjustments to its plenary sessions. Prior to the pandemic, all 120 members of parliament (MPs), Knesset staff, and technical staff were present on the plenary floor, with guests and the public in the upper level. To maintain social distancing, half of the MPs were repositioned to sit in the upper level of the plenary. This required the installation of a new communication and electricity network, hardware and software adjustments, and the addition of microphones for the MPs in the upper level.
Challenges and Legal Issues
While technological solutions for remote voting were prepared and tested, the main challenge faced by the Knesset was legal rather than technological. The decision to implement remote deliberation and voting ultimately depended on approval from the Speaker and the Knesset Secretary. To ensure fairness, the allocation of seats between the upper and lower levels was proportional, with ministers sitting in the lower level and other MPs allocated seats based on availability.
Digital Voting and Relocation of Stations
Prior to the pandemic, all digital voting stations were located in the lower level of the Knesset. As part of the Covid-19 adjustments, half of the stations were relocated to the upper level to facilitate voting for MPs seated there.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology in enabling democratic institutions to adapt and maintain their functions in challenging times. The Knesset’s response to the pandemic demonstrates its commitment to continuity, transparency, and public health, using technology as a tool to keep the parliament active and connected to the public. The adjustments made in committee and plenary sessions, as well as the preparation of digital voting solutions, exemplify the innovative approaches necessary to navigate the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
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