An Overly Generous Holiday Package

Last week the MKs went on their Pesach vacation, which is called a 'recess.' This is an excellent opportunity to ask why the MKs take a two-week vacation on Pesach. Do they have to clean the house?

Last week the MKs went on their Pesach vacation, which is called a "recess." This is an excellent opportunity to ask why the MKs take a two-week vacation on Pesach. Do they have to clean the house? To get rid of their chametz early? To complete their arrangements for the trip to Thailand? And if we're already discussing the MKs' schedule, why do MKs work only three days a week (from Monday to Wednesday) for only 40 weeks a year? In other words, a total of 120 days of discussions (one out of every three days a year). In an election year they even get an additional recess of many months, on the house, because the election campaign in Israel is so long.

It's true that some of the MKs work harder, much harder, but this is already a matter of good will rather than an obligation to be present. Some of the committees also convene on Sundays and Thursdays, but many of the MKs do not bother to show up at meetings. The Megidor Committee, which examined the system of government in Israel, recommended adding another day of work for deliberations in the committees, and also to improve the status of the Knesset in public opinion. If the MKs devoted any thought to this recommendation, it was probably very short-lived and did not have any public repercussions.

The Knesset, like most parliaments in the world, suffers from a serious crisis of confidence. A survey of attitudes toward the Knesset in 2001 discovered that only 14 percent of the public has confidence in the Israeli parliament. We can reasonably assume the situation has deteriorated since then. There are many reasons for this lack of confidence, some of them related to the fact that the modern media has difficulty covering the work of the parliament in depth, rather than being dependent on the actions of the MKs themselves.

But it is clear the public believes that the MKs work too little, and even when they do come to the Knesset, the plenum is empty and the committees are empty. Senior members of the academic world and the civil service come to testify before the committees and find themselves talking to a handful of MKs. It is hard for them to avoid the conclusion that the work of the Knesset is not conducted seriously, even if that is not always the case.

There are other parliaments in the world that have a short work week, but they usually serve countries that are much sleepier and more peaceful. The inhabitants of a nervous, densely populated and demanding country like Israel are dragged from one crisis to another and from one tempest to the next, and their lives sometimes (and perhaps usually) seem like a roller coaster. They are entitled to expect their elected officials to take care of these burning issues at least four days a week.

At the same opportunity, the MKs would do well to consider shortening their recesses. There is no reason why these elected officials should go out for a two-week recess on Pesach, and there is no reason why their summer vacation should last for more than a month and a half, including the holidays. If the holidays fall in September, this vacation can be consecutive. If not, let them divide the recess into two parts, and in the middle work for a month.

The MKs are being asked to add about 70 work days in all. If that happens, there will be a sense the MKs are aware of the criticism and are interested in improving their image and that of the institution where they work. It is important to recall that even if they do so, they will still be free to decide on their own schedule during about half the days of the year.