Parliamentary Recess Has Knesset Members Idle and 'Climbing the Walls'

It's a toss-up as to which is the most popular activity among Knesset employees these days: playing solitaire or speculating about the outcome of the upcoming elections - especially who the next Knesset speaker will be. With parliament recessed until after the election, and the House Committee having laid down stringent rules that make it hard for committees to convene during the break, the building is virtually empty and there is little else to do.

"We're going crazy here. We're climbing the walls," one worker said.

The boredom is so bad that the Knesset's director general, Avi Balashnikov, recently announced plans to organize volunteer activities for the workers: cleaning and painting nursing homes and residential facilities for special-needs children.

Nearly every parliament alternates between periods of hectic activity and long, quiet recesses. In Germany, for instance, parliament meets for only two weeks out of every four.

But the Knesset had been back in session for only three weeks, following a three-month summer holiday during which its almost 600 employees caught up on their administrative work, when it broke again for the election.

And while Election Day is February 10, a new government may not be established until late March, which means the new Knesset will be in session for at most a month before beginning the Pesach recess. In other words, parliament will have been recessed for nine or ten of the preceding 12 months.

Balashnikov admitted that the situation is "embarrassing." Yet at the same time, he noted, "the Knesset is not a seasonal workplace in which workers can be brought in just for the harvest."

To minimize waste during the lengthy recess, he has fired all of the building's temporary employees, ordered all permanent employees to utilize all their vacation during the recess, and banned overtime.

Some workers have also been loaned to the Central Elections Commission, which needs extra staff in the run-up to the election. And of course, some employees do have work.

For the maintenance crew, for instance, a long stretch of time in which the building is empty is ideal for doing renovations.

But even after all this, the fact remains that most workers - those whose work revolves around the MKs and their parliamentary activity - are sitting around with nothing to do.

The problem could have been mitigated by holding elections either in the fall or in the spring, so that the election recess would overlap the fall or spring holiday recess. But in recent years, it seems the politicians have generally preferred winter elections.

Nevertheless, not all employees are unhappy. As one said, it is a wonderful thing to have a job that both allows you to be at the center of national affairs and also gives you lots of time to be with your family.