A few days ago, the Knesset's Internet site posted a report on how MKs utilized their budgets for contact with the public in 2001. These funds are meant to enable the people's elected representatives to keep in touch with their voters. Article 26 of a decision on MKs' wages for that year states that this is money "to which the Knesset member is entitled in order to cover the necessary expenses for maintaining contact with his voters, including maintaining a parliamentary office ... It is all for the purpose of fulfilling his role as an elected representative." The article adds that "the Knesset member is permitted to use this annual budget for this purpose only, with appropriate prudence."
And indeed, the MKs did make appropriate use of this money, which totals some NIS 60,000 per MK per year - use that attests to their knowledge of advanced technology. In 2001, 31 MKs bought handheld computers of various types. They included Benny Elon (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu), Yigal Bibi (National Religious Party), Moshe Arens (Likud), Eitan Cabel (Labor), Sofa Landver (Labor) and David Magen (Center). Particularly noteworthy were MKs such as Zevulun Orlev (NRP), Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash), Yuri Stern (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) and others, who bought two such devices - one for each hand.
Shas MKs Shlomo Benizri, Itzhak Gagula, David Tal, Amnon Cohen, Rahamim Melloul, Eli Suissa and others all bought top-of-the-line handheld computers that cost NIS 2,000 to NIS 3,000 apiece, according to the Knesset's accountant. Zvi Hendel (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) went even further, deciding to coddle his handheld computer with a case that cost NIS 338 (his spokesman says that the case came with the computer and it is not clear why it was listed separately). Avi Yehezkel (Labor) must have lost the stylus that comes with the computer, otherwise it is hard to explain why he bought a second one, for NIS 105.
And even if this seems like mere subservience to the latest fad, it is impossible not to be impressed by the MKs' enormous investments in the desktop computers that sit in their parliamentary offices. Nissim Dahan (Shas), for instance, bought a computer, printer and scanner for NIS 19,000, and later even added memory (NIS 136) and a new hard drive (NIS 965) that he later had to replace with another - for an additional NIS 965. Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) bought a computer, a printer and a CD burner, for NIS 12,868. A CD burner is undoubtedly an essential piece of equipment for keeping in touch with the public. That must be why Eliezer Sandberg (Shinui) and Meshulam Nahari (Shas) also bought one.
There were also those who preferred laptop computers. Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) bought himself one for NIS 10,700, while Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) bought one that cost NIS 14,097. David Levy (Gesher) purchased his laptop for NIS 10,940, while Alex Tsinker (Democratic Choice) paid NIS 8,198. But it is hard to blame them when one considers that even the prime minister needed a laptop to keep in touch with the public - at a cost of NIS 14,143.
Natan Sharansky (Yisrael b'Aliyah) also values contact with the public. He therefore invested NIS 29,000 in building an Internet site. Unfortunately, the site is his party's rather than his own. His spokeswoman explained that the money was used to build "his portion" of the party's site. Very nice.
Particularly noteworthy is the enthusiasm the MKs demonstrated for the very latest models. Shas faction chairman Eli Yishai decided that only a handheld and a personal computer that together cost NIS 18,000 would do for his parliamentary office. Yitzhak Cohen of Shas bought a personal computer that cost NIS 15,806.
Shlomo Benizri was jealous. It's not fair, he said to himself; why don't I have a computer? After doing some careful comparison shopping, he bought a computer and a wireless mouse for NIS 17,400 from a Jerusalem shop called Suderi Computers. Suderi? Could that be a relative of Shas spokesman Itzik Suderi? God forbid. The CEO of Suderi Computers denies any connection with the Shas spokesman. It is pure coincidence. The world is full of coincidences these days
"MKs come to committee meetings that deal with technology, and you see that they don't understand a thing. It doesn't interest them," a well-known lawyer recently complained when asked about the state of legislation dealing with the Internet. But after reading the Knesset report, one can only conclude that this is gross slander. The MKs understand technology only too well.
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