MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) holds the Knesset record for participating in parliamentary delegations abroad in 2009. During his 10 months in the Knesset last year, Plesner took part in five parliamentary delegations, and was abroad for 27 days.
Over the course of 2009, Knesset members participated in 30 such delegations, several at the expense of the hosts, which included the Chinese and Italian parliaments. The budget for overseas delegations, and for hosting foreign delegations in Israel, was NIS 1.5 million in 2009. The Knesset hosted 120 delegations.
This year's budget has been increased to NIS 2.2 million.
Knesset director general Dan Landau recently decided that permission to travel in business class would not be limited to flights of more than six hours. Now, Knesset members can enjoy more luxurious seating on flights to nearer destinations, too.
Knesset sources say that the MKs serve as Israel's ambassadors, and that the criticism of overseas travel is unwarranted. The trips are generally short, and leave the MKs nearly no time to unpack before they have to return home, the sources say.
Of the 81 MKs who are not ministers or deputy ministers, 36 participated in such delegations. Arab MKs and United Torah Judaism MKs did not participate in any of them. Knesset sources say that Arab MKs prefer not to represent the State of Israel on such trips.
These trips let Knesset members travel business class, enjoy luxury hotels, eat choice food, and of course, conduct effective work meetings.
Plesner has the enviable job of being the Knesset's representative to the European Council, which requires him to participate in its meetings and committees once every few months, in order to defend Israel's positions. Plesner took four trips abroad, to Paris and Strasbourg, for such meetings. Knesset sources say that the U.K.-born Plesner, who is 38, represents Israel well with his fluent English.
MK Eli Aflalo (Kadima), who chairs the Israel-Vietnam Parliamentary Friendship Group, spent nine days in Vietnam last year, as part of his duties.
New Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, beyond attending European Council meetings in Paris and Strasbourg, spent five days in London last November as part of the Israel-Britian friendship delegation.
Knesset members insist the trips are essential to represent and defend Israel's international interests. "Our presence [at the European Council] is important, and as far as I can say, it has been effective. I waged a difficult battle to influence a comprehensive report against Israel written in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, and I maintain contact with parliament members from all over Europe, enlisting them on missions against Iran and Hamas," said Plesner.
MK Carmel Shama called the interest in overseas Knesset delegations "yellow, gossipy and superficial," adding, "parliament members all over the world travel, present and promote the interests of their country. Because I was charged with drafting the packaging law, I joined the environmental protection minister on a visit to three European countries in five days, which included visits to dumps, in order to shift Israel away from third-world norms in favor of regulation suiting a developed country."
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