I Thought Everyone Was Exaggerating, but Then I Visited the Knesset

It was interesting to see how the lawmakers behave when they talk so about taking care of the weak, unemployed, laid off, while at the same time they are dealing with their own personal salaries.

Olivier Fitoussi

I thought they were plain exaggerating. I thought it was a case of character assassination. But after I saw the horror show of Knesset member Oren Hazan (Likud) in the Knesset, I understood that something bad is happening in our legislature.

A few days ago I attended a session on MKs' salaries in the Knesset. It was interesting to see how politicians behave when they talk so grandly about taking care of the weak, unemployed, laid off, those who earn minimum wage and single-parent families — while at the same time they are dealing with their own personal salaries.

In the meeting of the Knesset House Committee that I attended, MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) and Yael German (Yesh Atid) fought against the proposal to raise the salaries of Knesset members based on the rise in the average wage. They are right. Knesset members’ salaries are high and respectable. They now stand at about 40,000 shekels a month ($10,200), one of the highest in the world relative to the average wage. That is why it is inappropriate for MKs to receive any increase in January 2016. They need to make do with their 40,000 shekels and hold another debate on the issue before 2017.

Do not forget that, in addition to their salaries, MKs also receive a car, a budget for contact with voters, a budget for renting an office and all sorts of other goodies. And all this is especially true when one considers the small, almost ridiculous, number of work days they spend in the Knesset, as opposed to vacations, recesses and trips overseas.

While Yacimovich and German were fighting their losing battle against House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud,) whose entire goal was to get rid of them and raise his salary quietly (and he has been in the Knesset for all of six months,) Oren Hazan sat at the end of the table , yelling, bothering and harassing everyone until even chairman Bitan had to reprimand him: “You do not have the right to speak!” But Hazan was not impressed, continuing to shout at the two women MKs that they were “looking for headlines” and creating “deligitimization of the Knesset members.”

After that, he ordered drinks (there is no whisky, only diet cola and water,) placed the bottled on the table in front of him, as is common in casinos, and immediately began interfering again: “We make only 30 shekels an hour, I did the calculation. I’m good at math.” Later, he screamed: “The public committee [responsible for setting conditions for MKs] is irrelevant and not objective.” But how do you calculate 30 shekels an hour from 40,000 a month? I can’t figure it out.

In the end, Bitan decided, with the support of 11 committee members — including Hazan, Yinon Magal (Habayit Hayehudi) and Israel Eichler (united Torah Judaism) — that the salaries of Knesset members would rise by about 1,000 shekels a month, after deducting the rise in the minimum wage form the original amount. How disgusting. How embarrassing. It is so sad to see our elected representatives taking a raise for themselves, in complete opposition to the recommendations of the public committee they themselves appointed to handle such matters. If that is not corruption, then what is?

After that I went to meet with the director general of the Knesset, Ronen Plot, who showed me the legislature’s budget: 717 million shekels. It turns out that every year the Knesset budget increases by some 50 million shekels, which go to such very important purposes as increasing the number of employees, providing more parliamentary aides (20 million shekels,) renovating the kitchen for 13 million shekels — a huge amount that could be used to build 10 new kitchens — refreshments for Knesset committees, partial funding for MKs using the toll express lane to Tel Aviv and many similar irritating and wasteful items from a body that has no supervision or oversight — a guaranteed recipe for corruption.

To ensure that the public continues to love its elected representatives, the public relations budget was also increased — from 8 million shekels to 10 million shekels. I have a proposal for Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein: Announce a freeze on the salaries of MKs, the cancellation of an additional parliamentary aide for each MK and cut in the Knesset’s own budget. The moment you do that, you will no longer need a public relations budget. We will all love you.