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15 parties, dozens of new faces promise drama for incoming Knesset

NEW YORK, May 23 (JTA) — When the gavel sounds on June 7 to convene the 15th Knesset, there will be a record 15 political parties represented, promising a new season of raucous debate in the always contentious legislature. There will be 15 women sworn in — also a record — when President Ezer Weizman convenes the opening session, to be chaired by the most senior Knesset member, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Female representation in the 120-member Knesset will rise by more than 50 percent from the outgoing legislature, which had nine. The previous record was set in 1955, when there were 12 female Knesset members. The new Knesset will also have dozens of new faces, including: * Dalia Rabin-Philosof, daughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In her first venture into politics, she ran as a member of the Center Party, which is likely to be part of the government of Prime Minister- elect Ehud Barak. Her mother, Leah, stated last week that she would make a good education minister. * Uri Savir, a member of the Center Party who served as director general of the Foreign Ministry in the Rabin government. He was a member of the Israeli negotiating team that met secretly in 1993 with PLO representatives in Norway to hammer out what later became known as the Oslo accords. * Dr. Ahmed Tibi, the former adviser on Israeli affairs to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He resigned the advisory role after his Knesset candidacy sparked controversy because of his ties to Arafat. He was elected along with Azmi Beshara, the head of the National Democratic Alliance — Balad. Until his 11th-hour withdrawal, Beshara was the first Israeli Arab to run for prime minister. * Rabbi Michael Melchior, a Danish-born former chief rabbi of Norway. A religious moderate, he ran as part of the One Israel bloc headed by Barak. He favors land for peace agreements with Israel’s Arab neighbors and wants to end military deferments for fervently Orthodox yeshiva students. * Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman, head of the Israel, Our Home Party representing Russian immigrants. A former aide to outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he was the recent target of an investigation by police officials, who recommended shortly before last week’s election that he be charged with slander for his attacks on the judicial system. It is unclear whether there will be any follow-up to that recommendation because he is now protected by parliamentary immunity. * Husnia Jabara, a member of the leftist Meretz Party who will serve as Israel’s first female Arab legislator. Winning a seat after final election results gave Meretz 10 seats instead of the previously projected nine, she plans to focus on social, economic and cultural issues affecting Jewish and Arab Israelis alike. Forty percent of Meretz’s representatives in the incoming Knesset are women, more than any other party. * Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, head of the revitalized Shinui Party, which scored six Knesset seats with its platform calling for the exclusion of all fervently Orthodox parties from the next government. A former tough-talking political commentator on television talk shows, he has been described as Israel’s Archie Bunker for his strong conservative views on such issues as women’s rights, religion and homosexuality. * Danny Naveh, a member of the Likud Party who served as Netanyahu’s Cabinet secretary until new elections were called last December. He also served as spokesman for then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens during the government of Yitzhak Shamir. In last week’s elections, 16 parties failed to get enough votes for Knesset representation. Among them were the Casino Party, which sought to legalize gambling in Israel, and the Green Leaf Party, which called for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Pnina Rosenblum Party, named for the cosmetics magnate who headed it, looked likely to get two seats according to preliminary voting results, but was shut out of the Knesset when final tallies were issued last week. In addition, two parties in the outgoing Knesset failed to cross the threshold of votes needed for inclusion in the new legislature: * The Third Way, which objected to any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and was headed by Avigdor Kahalani, public security minister in the outgoing Netanyahu government; * Tsomet, the right-wing party that ran as part of a Likud coalition in the 1996 elections, but ran on its own this time around. Television cameras following Knesset proceedings will no longer be able to focus on the arms-folded, no-compromise stance of party head Rafael Eitan, a former army chief of staff known for his anti-Arab views.