Israelis watched with the rest of the world as protesters stormed the Capitol building in Washington last week, but none watched more closely than the security officers at the Knesset.
Well before the disturbances in Washington, the Knesset Guard—an armed force numbering in the hundreds—had been training for riots and kidnapping scenarios in and around the Knesset grounds, a Knesset source told The Times of Israel.
It should not be surprising in a country where terrorism is a constant threat, the Rabin assassination remains vivid in the public memory and angry anti-Netanyahu demonstrations are a weekly event outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Yerushalayim.
According to a Knesset source, the Guards cooperate closely with the police and Shin Bet security agency. They receive weapons training and some come from special forces units.
The Guard operates under the direct authority of the Knesset speaker, currently Likud MK Yariv Levin.
The Guards are formally called ushers, headed by Sergeant-at-Arms Shmuel Zubari. (The ushers who work inside the Knesset and occasionally remove disruptive or recalcitrant MKs are part of a separate unit.)
In July, the Guard was criticized for allowing protesters to climb onto a sculpture of a Menorah and a Star of David that stand in a traffic circle just outside the Knesset. They were accused of being disrespectful to Jewish symbols, though they committed no vandalism.
The gardens and sidewalks surrounding the Knesset serve as a regular venue for large demonstrations. On any given day, there are demonstrations for a range of issues, from “Netanyahu Must Go” to calls for reforms or public attention for issues like workers’ rights, stipends for the disabled, or unequal budget allocations to Arab and Druze towns.