The parliamentary database: Examining the figures, considering the quality

Which parties take their jobs on the opposition benches seriously and which do not? And what about the parties that are members of the ruling coalition? What do MKs Galit Distel Atbaryan and Ofer Cassif have in common? Do Likud boycotts limit the work of the opposition? And what gift did MK Amichai Chikli give to the Yemina Knesset faction? Shomrim's database of lawmakers – a periodical analysis

Which parties take their jobs on the opposition benches seriously and which do not? And what about the parties that are members of the ruling coalition? What do MKs Galit Distel Atbaryan and Ofer Cassif have in common? Do Likud boycotts limit the work of the opposition? And what gift did MK Amichai Chikli give to the Yemina Knesset faction? Shomrim's database of lawmakers – a periodical analysis

Which parties take their jobs on the opposition benches seriously and which do not? And what about the parties that are members of the ruling coalition? What do MKs Galit Distel Atbaryan and Ofer Cassif have in common? Do Likud boycotts limit the work of the opposition? And what gift did MK Amichai Chikli give to the Yemina Knesset faction? Shomrim's database of lawmakers – a periodical analysis

Miki Levy and Dov Morel

The Knesset in Jerusalem. Photo: Shutterstock

June 6, 2022

Summary

1.

On January 5, 2022, a discussion was held in the Knesset plenum about firefighting systems and plumbing in the construction industry. Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Elkin (New Hope) stood at the podium answering lawmakers' questions. The discussion was held following parliamentary questions submitted by members of the Knesset. MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud) rose to ask a follow-up question. Quite naturally, follow-up questions are supposed to deal with the subject being discussed at the time. MK Karhi apparently had a different view; he sought to use the opportunity to criticize the government's policy in the Negev, a far cry from the issue discussed at the time. The entire incident can be viewed (in Hebrew) on YouTube. This incident highlights the difficulty in collecting exclusively quantitative information about the activity of the Knesset. Although MK Karhi's question was a follow-up question – and, as such, is not counted for Shomrim's Parliamentary Questions Submitted index – it does show how an important parliamentary tool can be taken out of context

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that MK Karhi is a member of the largest faction in the Knesset, representing a large constituency of voters, and this may be precisely what his voters want. It is also worth noting that the opposition sees its main role as pointing out the failings of the coalition – which is legitimate. Incidentally, MK Karhi is in tenth place in the Parliamentary Questions Submitted index, with twenty-four questions.

Follow the Activity of Each MK Through a Variety of Indexes
2.

Ever since the database was launched – and for the sake of transparency, in the countless editorial meetings we held before publication – we knew that we would have to qualify some of the findings to address the gap between quantitative and qualitative. Parliamentary questions are a vital tool for the Knesset to oversee the work of the government. When Shomrim reported last year about the number of residential buildings that have been reinforced as part of a national construction project, the figures behind that report came from the response given by the then-deputy interior minister, Yoav Ben Tzur (Shas), to a question submitted by a Knesset member. A few months later, an apartment building in Holon collapsed, and the issue was thrust into the headlines again following an earthquake in northern Israel. The answer to a different question, submitted by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), led to a change in the Building Construction Index, as reported recently by Globes.

The following analysis (which applies to data before the most recent update) is our first attempt to combine the qualitative and quantitative.

Before diving into the analysis, the first note is that the questions recorded in Shomrim's Parliamentary Questions Index, on which the graph is based, include only those questions included in the Knesset's records. In other words: regular and urgent questions. However, there is another type of question: a direct question. The direct question is direct communication between a Knesset member and a ministry or minister – and it is a hugely valuable tool. The problem is that data regarding direct questions is not transparent and are not available to the public via the Knesset's database. In January 2022, this information was obtained by Shakuf, and, once combined with our data, it paints a fascinating picture. Although the overall picture is reinforced, more or less, by this new data, it does seem that there are some Knesset members who are active "under the radar." The widest gap was found for MK Moshe Arbel (Shas), who tops the list of direct questions submitted, but who only raised one parliamentary question in the plenum. Similarly, MK Yinon Azoulay (Shas) has only submitted five questions according to the publicly available information.

Back to this analysis. We took the eight lawmakers who submitted more than twenty questions in the Knesset plenum – as of December 24, 2021 – and tried to apply a qualitative index. The index we selected is the level of variety in the subject of the questions (as a percentage of the total number of questions, without taking into account the actual number of questions). To include additional information, we also included the main and sub-topics to which the lawmakers' questions related. These are the questions that lawmakers return to time and time again. For MK Ayman Odeh (The Joint List), the subject that is raised most often is the relationship between Israel's security forces and the Arab community, which also covers the issue of crime in the Arab community, murder investigations, and so on. Questions submitted by MK Odeh were the least "varied," according to our analysis. Does this mean that his questions are lower quality? Or simply that this is the most critical issue at the moment among his electorate? This is a question that should be debated widely, and we invite readers to share their insights.

This graph shows that MK Galit Distel Atbaryan (Likud) and MK Ofer Cassif (The Joint List) ask the most varied parliamentary questions. Many of Cassif's questions deal with social and environmental issues, but he also does not shy away from his party's main issue – the relationship between the Arab community in Israel and the IDF and the police.

MK Galit Distel Atbaryan presents an interesting quandary: her parliamentary questions are so varied that it is impossible to state her main issue, let alone a secondary issue. On the other hand, one kind of question does stick out – personal questions directed to government ministers, including, for example, about the attorney general's decision with regard to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett or the fact that the wife of Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar is the anchor of the main evening news show of the public broadcasting authority.

3.

A quantitative examination of the work of Knesset members can also suggest an apparatus for public oversight. Our colleagues at Shakuf, for example, examined the activity of Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) and two Likud MKs – Yuli Edelstein and Yoav Gallant.

We decided to examine the same thing from the perspective of the Knesset parties: by examining how many motions for the agenda and parliamentary questions each party submitted and proposals for preliminary committee discussions (as of January 6, 2022). The data shows that the Likud party is, indeed, less active. The most active, as usual, are the Joint List and the Religious Zionism parties.

It's important to point out that, led by Likud, many opposition factions have been boycotting Knesset committees as part of the disagreement over party representation on the committees. Whether or not this is a good enough reason to justify their poor participation rate in such committees is up to the same voters who elected these lawmakers in the first place.

Either way, it does not seem that the boycott has had an excessive impact on the activity of the opposition parties. Compared to the previous Knesset, the numbers are similar. The fact that the previous Knesset lasted for around one year, and the current one is only seven months old is offset by a different number of Knesset members in opposition. There were 50 opposition MKs in the previous Knesset, compared to 59 in the current Knesset. In any case, the calculation here is the average per lawmaker.

4.

What about the work of the coalition? Without a doubt, it's complicated since the main parameter is government activity. And yet, even within the coalition, it is important that some Knesset members keep a close eye on the executive branch and, most importantly, make sure to put the issues important to their voters on the government's agenda. To what extent does this happen?

The following is an analysis by factions that are members of the coalition:

Here, too, there is a statistical catch: MK Amichai Chikli, who distances himself ideologically from the current coalition, is considered part of his Yemina faction for this analysis – and, as already stated, the data was collated before MK Chikli was ejected from his party. Since Chikli is a highly active lawmaker and is near the top of the Parliamentary Questions Index, it is safe to assume that Yemina would find itself much lower in the ranking without his contribution. The top-ranking lawmakers all come from the Labor and Meretz factions. Even though they are members of the coalition, they have not forgotten their obligation to oversee the work of a government that they happen to be members of.

5.

So, what conclusions can we draw from these analyses? First of all, as always, the work of Knesset members includes a lot more than can be measured in numbers. Secondly, when one dives deeper into the figures, the picture remains complicated and needs to be broken down according to qualitative parameters. Thirdly, overseeing the work of elected officials must be constant and consistent, and those conducting the analysis must be prepared to deal with contradictions and surprises.

In the months that have passed since the launch of the parliamentary index, we have received a lot of feedback. We have seen how public discourse has started to address parliamentary activity and not just provocations. With the public's cooperation, we believe that we can promote fruitful and effective discussions based on data but without ignoring a more complex qualitative picture. And who knows, perhaps our parliament will change along with our discourse.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.