Here's what happens when computer geeks meet MKs who barely come to work
The Open Knesset project exposes the activity and participation of MKs.
Which Knesset members devote their time and energy to the job? Who barely shows up in parliament? Until now you could only surmise, unless you moved into the Knesset building in Jerusalem. But Ofer Raviv's Open Knesset project sheds light on the behavior of Israel's parliamentarians, for better and for worse.
Raviv presented the Open Knesset project on Friday at the annual conference - charmingly named August Penguin - held by Hamakor: Israeli Society for Free Software and Open-Source Code.
Hamakor was founded in 2003 by self-proclaimed free and open-source-software activists in Israel to promote freeware and open-source code. It aims to give official representation to the scattered open-source community.
Open-source software is computer software code in the public domain, as opposed to being protected by copyright.
Open Knesset is a project based on open-source code that aims to lay bare what MKs are really doing. The information is available in Hebrew at http://www.oknesset.org.
"Instead of telling stories, mainly, we aim to show real data," says Raviv. "Who voted for what, who initiated ideas, how many MKs actually show up for debates and the Knesset committees, and the status of each bill." The project aims to spur public discussion of these issues.
Open Knesset is run by volunteers and is not sponsored by any political body.
It didn't invent the wheel. There are other Web sites around the world that track the activity of parliamentarians such as The Public Whip in Britain, Open Congress in the United States and Open Parliament in Canada.
Raviv, who holds a doctorate in social sciences from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that all the data in the site originates from the Knesset itself.
"It's simply badly presented," he says. "For instance, take the hours that a Knesset member is actually present in parliament. There is a time clock on the Knesset Web site, but it only shows who's actually there at the time you look. We wrote a script [a software code] that goes to that Web page and samples it every five minutes."
In other words, with that, Open Code can keep track of who came to parliament and how long they stayed. It does the same thing for legislative proposals - constant sampling to keep track of their status.
On the Open Code site you can keep track of bills and how MKs voted at each of the votes in the plenum. You can read the minutes of each Knesset committee.
Moreover, you can study the full statistics of activity by each MK. Who comes to the Knesset? Who stays away? Who takes part in committee debates and who takes the trouble to vote?
The project is a true community one, says Raviv. "The people behind Open Knesset include Benny Daon, former chief executive of Shunra Software, and programmers who believed in the idea. The site has been active from the beginning of the year," he says. "I began it because it annoyed me that people vote based on what public-relations firms and the media tell them. I want to show the raw data on the Knesset members."
Raviv doesn't get many responses from MKs, their spokespeople or their aides. He did get one complaint from the parliamentary aide of Einat Wilf (Labor), who said that because she joined the Knesset in February, she badly lagged in the ratings. "He suggested that we normalize the data on a monthly basis. His suggestion made sense," Raviv says.
Here are some raw data from Open Knesset.
David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) boasts the highest presence in the Knesset; he's there 24.6 hours a week, on average. By the way, the working week in Israel for a full-time job is 43 hours.
In second place we find Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), followed by Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi).
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) graces the Knesset with his presence 2.6 hours a week, on average.
Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu) shows up for 3.5 hours a week on average, while Eli Yishai (Shas) and Ehud Barak (Labor) both average 3.6 hours.
Orlev leads the pack when it comes to bills that win approval: 10 this year.
Amnon Cohen (Shas), Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) each boast seven.
The most prolific MK when it comes to proposing bills is Dov Khenin (Hadash) with 341, followed by Orlev (214) and Aryeh Eldad of National Union (128). Dozens of MKs have made no legislative proposals whatsoever.