This article deals with interruptions in plenary sessions of the Knesset and the challenge of forming rules for their inclusion in the official report. The Knesset is the unicameral Parliament of Israel. It comprises 120 elected members (MKs) who represent various parties and social groups. The government is formed by coalition. According to Israeli law, public elections are held every four years, but recent governments did not last that long and five election campaigns have been held in the last three and a half years.
The wide divergence of opinions and the unstable political situation in the last few years are some of the reasons for the lively and conflictual atmosphere in the Knesset’s plenary sessions. Other reasons are general changes in media coverage and social network’s increasing traffic on the one hand, and maybe cultural informality, a claim that was made by the former MK and minister Amnon Rubinstein four decades ago: “The Knesset is one of the few parliaments that are free of any trace of ceremony. In fact, only a handful of practices call for its members to exercise self-restraint. The discussions are held in an atmosphere of unruliness, constant refusal to comply with the instructions of the Speaker, and distasteful shouting”. (Rubinstein 1982, 18). By “distasteful shouting”, Rubinstein refers to the frequent interruptions during the session. When should they be included in the official report?
Interruptions as a challenge for parliamentary reporting
According to the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure, interruptions on speaking MKs should be included in the minutes of all proceedings. Because of this, reporters and editors are faced with a frequent challenge. These difficulties, I believe, are familiar to all parliamentary reporters: some interruptions are not heard clearly, and sometimes the ability to understand them depends on the interrupter’s voice, intonation, accent and location in the hall. While some interruptions use the same vocabulary and semantic fields that are used in the MK’s speech, others may be more difficult to comprehend as they are out of context, presenting a completely new topic.
Due to the increasing number of interruptions in the Knesset in the last few years, reporters and editors spend an increasing amount of time and effort on decoding unclear messages and reflecting them properly. But, on top of the need to invest more energy in transcribing and decoding, this change in parliamentary atmosphere raises a dilemma with relation to the form and content of plenary minutes: interruptions are, of course, a vivid and natural part of parliamentary discourse. In some cases, they are even welcomed by MKs and ministers, reflecting interpersonal relations and political communication. However, when every few sentences of a speech are followed by four or five interruptions, it is not easy for the readers of the minutes to keep track of what is said, who is speaking and what procedure is taking place (questions, motions etc). Should our work continue as usual or is it time to reconsider our transcription policy?
Mapping parliamentary interruptions
In order to deal with this problem and maybe form some new consistent principles for reporters and editors with relation to interruptions, it is necessary, as a first step, to map parliamentary interruptions and define their types, timing and importance. I believe that such a mapping can be made in the light of two concepts in the field of translational studies, which were introduced by Gideon Toury (1995, 57). Toury sees every translation as a culture-dependent outcome of adequacy on the one hand (i.e. accuracy of the translation with relation to its source text) and acceptability on the other hand (i.e. the extent to which it is considered appropriate in the target culture). With relation to parliamentary reporting, these two extremes can be described as accuracy vs readability. Locating interruptions on the scale between these two concepts may help in deciding how to transcribe them.
Very offensive and brutal interruptions should be situated on the accuracy end of the scale. In the Knesset, these are transcribed exactly as they are heard even if they interfere with a speech, with the Speaker’s words or with a vote—that is, even if they are very “unreadable”. The reason is that those are parts of the text which will be looked for in the minutes by the public and by other MKs and Knesset officials, mostly because of potential complaints and sanctions that may be made against the interrupter.
On the other hand, questions addressed by an MK in the hall which are repeated once or twice only in order to be clear and not for other reasons (such as to stress a point or as harassment) are located very close to the other end of the scale. Here, readability is more important than accuracy and therefore an editorial change can be made, for example to include the sentence only once in the minutes in order to create a more fluent text.
These are, of course, some easy cases. Most interruptions are much more complicated speech events, where offensiveness is combined with humour, creativity is followed by formality, friendliness is mixed with strong arguments, and so on. For example, when an opposition member interrupts a speech of a coalition MK in order to congratulate him after recovering from Covid-19, the question of whether to include the interruption in the minutes is related not to the minutes’ role as a formal tool but to their role as an authentic reflection of the political discourse. Should this need to reflect interpersonal relations place the interruption on the accuracy end of the scale? Can the minutes reflect it in a way which will harm readability as little as possible? It seems that this dilemma raises the need for another scale—that of communicability vs formality, which will not be discussed here. Since the official report of the Knesset is edited quite minimally in various aspects (grammar and formal addresses to other members), we decided in favour of including such interruptions in the official report exactly as they were expressed at the cost of providing a less coherent text.
Interrupting voice votes
A small change that we have decided on lately in reporting interruptions can work as an example of the advantages of analysing interruptions on a scale presented above. In the Knesset, both electronic votes and voice votes (we call them name-votes) are acceptable and, until recently, interruptions were not very common during both types of votes. Interruptions were transcribed only during voice votes, as they were usually addressed to the MK who has just announced his/her vote and were considered relevant. However, in the last one or two years, voice votes have become more frequent, and so have the interruptions during this procedure. At first, they were transcribed as faithfully as before, but after a few months we realised that this harms the readability of the minutes in a rather crucial point—the vote itself. We considered omitting all these interruptions, but soon enough some offensive interruptions proved that such a clear decision is impossible. Eventually, we decided that only very offensive interruptions which are followed by Speaker’s words are to be transcribed. Other interruptions will not be included, even if they are followed by Speaker’s comments or responded by other interrupters; this means that the comments and responses of such interruptions are excluded as well. So far, this decision seems to achieve the right combination of accuracy and readability in our official report. However, as all reporters and editors know, the parliamentary environment is a very fluid and flexible one, and some specific contexts may require favouring accuracy over readability.
I believe that mapping parliamentary interruptions on the readability vs accuracy scale is a helpful tool in editing the official report of the Knesset. Yet most interruptions are of course complicated speech events, and therefore it is probably impossible to form rigid principles for the inclusion or exclusion of interruptions. The final decision will always require an identification of the interrupter’s goals and understanding of the specific context.
Dikla Abravanel is the head of the editorial department in the Knesset, Parliament of Israel.
Rubinstein, A. (1982).נסיון פוליטי מסוים [“A Certain Political Experience”]. Jerusalem: Idanim.
Toury, G. (1995). Descriptive translation studies – and beyond. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.