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Glossary: Knesset


Israel's Knesset
Yair Dvora via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/39159280@N00/)
Definition: The Knesset is the unicameral, 120-member Israeli legislature, whose members are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. About a dozen parties are represented in the Knesset. The Knesset is responsible for electing Israel's prime minister, approving the executive cabinet and enacting laws.

The word Knesset derives from the Hebrew Beit Knesset, or house of worship, whose Arabic derivative, knisseh, means church.

Israel's Knesset, a square, squat, modernist structure more evocative of airport terminals or penal institutions than stately government buildings, was planned and built in the 1960s to loom atop western Jerusalem.

A fascinating critique of the Knesset's architecture, on the Knesset's Web site, notes:

One of the harshest criticisms that were expressed against Klarwein's original plan, and the Knesset building as it was finally constructed, was that they were not Israeli. It is not clear what an 'Israeli building' is, and who is authorized to determine this. But even if one were able to reach a definition of what is 'Israeli', and decide on its basis that the Knesset is not Israeli, in this context it is worthy considering Lawrence Vale’s argument in his book on the architecture of capitals, that even though parliaments are expected to represent the national identity in their style, this is usually not the case. In his words, those who decide are the leaders, and what is built represents their personal tastes and ambitions.137 In the case of Israel, it is not the leaders who influenced the shape of the buildings, but the wars among the architects, and the compromises which enabled the truces and armistices in these wars. The compromises were frequently attained through the mediation of foreign architects and officials. The process, at the end of which the Knesset building was built as it was built, was extremely Israeli.

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