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‘A moving moment:’ For the first time in Israeli history, a deaf Knesset member joins the parliament

Shirley Pinto, a lifelong advocate for improving accessibility for people with disabilities in Israel, sworn in today, Prime Minister Bennett lauds her inclusion

Shirley Pinto, the first deaf Knesset member during a swearing in ceremony of new Israeli parliament members at the Knesset, June 16, 2021. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel made history today when Shirley Pinto was sworn in as the first ever deaf Knesset member.

Pinto, who is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, was able to break into the Knesset when another party member at the top of the list resigned his seat after being appointed to the Cabinet. This procedure – made possible by the Norwegian Law – makes room for the next party member in line to get into the Knesset.

Bennett attended the ceremony today and praised Pinto’s inclusion in national politics.

“A moving moment for me. For all of us,” Bennett tweeted along with a video after the swearing in. “Shirley Pinto, the first deaf Knesset member in Israel, declares allegiance to the State of Israel. Dear Shirley, I am so proud of you.”

Pinto, 32, declared her oath at the Knesset this morning in Israeli sign language. Because this is the first time a person who is deaf is serving in the Knesset, the staff spent the past few days working out how to integrate her specific needs. As she signed during the swearing in, a translator spoke into a microphone on her behalf.

Knesset Secretary Yardena Meller-Horowitz and her staff collaborated with other departments and with Pinto herself to find the best solutions to allow Pinto to practically carry out her work.

Pinto asked that her seat in the plenary hall be located close to her translator so she can be updated in real time as to what is taking place in the fast-paced plenum – including who is speaking and who is interjecting. In addition, instead of the normal bell that alerts lawmakers that a vote is taking place in the main hall, the Knesset will install a light in Pinto’s office that will flash before a vote.

Pinto is the second person with disabilities in the Knesset. Karine Elharrar was the first Knesset member with disabilities and was just appointed energy minister on Monday. Elharrar, 43, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, has been in the Knesset since 2013.

Elharrar and Pinto together are expected to be a strong force to advocate for Israelis with disabilities.

Pinto’s former employer, the Ruderman Family Foundation, said Pinto will “be a force of positive change.”

“I’m confident she will be a strong voice for inclusion and accessibility for those with disabilities,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation's president. “I applaud Yamina and the new government for warmly welcoming her. Shirley will join Karine Elharrar, the first Israeli minister with disabilities. I know both Shirley and Karine will work to improve the inclusion of 20% of the Israeli population – people with disabilities."

Pinto has been an advocate for the deaf in Israel and for people with special needs in general. Both of her parents are also deaf.

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Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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