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To former Knesset speaker and current MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech to the Saban Forum on Sunday constituted an escalation. Knesset members are already used to prime ministers delivering their most important addresses at academic fora such as the Herzliya and Caesarea conferences, but now, even conferences sponsored by business tycoons are being preferred over the Knesset.

"The Knesset is becoming a secondary venue," Rivlin told the House Committee yesterday.

"Soon, every tycoon will have his own conference," added Shas faction chairman Yakov Margi, who proposed that MKs boycott such conferences.

Current Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) later told Haaretz that she personally refuses to speak at conferences, and she believes that prime ministers, too, should save their major speeches for the Knesset.

But none of the above was the actual topic of the committee meeting; that was devoted to another case in which the Knesset proved irrelevant - namely, Itzik's decision to recess it as scheduled in late July 2006, even as the Second Lebanon War was at its height. At the time, Itzik argued that Knesset committees could meet even during the recess, while the plenum could convene in special session if necessary.

"This was improper behavior," charged Rivlin, who, in response, submitted a bill forbidding the Knesset to recess during wars or other emergencies. It was this bill, which has passed its preliminary reading, that the House Committee began discussing yesterday.

The bill has broad support even among Itzik's Kadima faction. "This is a correct and justified bill," said faction chairman Eli Aflalo.

Added deputy faction chair Yoel Hasson: "As a new MK, it seemed a bit strange to me that the country was in an uproar, at war, and we were rather disconnected."

Itzik stands by her decision, saying that what actually happened during the war - a single weekly plenum session plus committee meetings - was just right. "If the MKs had shouted, how would that have helped the war?" she demanded.

To which Likud faction chair Gideon Sa'ar retorted that unfortunately, the cabinet also appears to have recessed during the war.