Not Civil Servants

Only one MK actually showed up at the meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee last week to discuss the comptroller's report.

Only a few weeks ago, after the state comptroller published his report on the preparedness of the home front during the Second Lebanon War, Knesset members bombarded journalists with endless beeper messages that almost brought down the system, and faxes that felled forests, all to give their response to the report.

But in spite of their professed worries, only one MK actually showed up at the meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee last week to discuss the comptroller's report: the committee's chairman, Zevulun Orlev. MK Yakov Litzman also showed up near the end of the session after attending a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee scheduled for the same time.

A few MKs had acceptable excuses: David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu had a doctor's appointment, Limor Livnat (Likud) was moving to a new house, Michael Nudelman (Kadima) was meeting with the finance minister, and others missed the meeting with various explanations and excuses.

As opposed to regular employees, MKs are exempt from the need to inform their employers of their absences, being defined as a special group.

They are elected officials, not public servants.

MKs are not required to show up for work during Knesset recesses, or attend committees or special plenum sessions during the vacation period. MKs are only required to show up for work on days when the Knesset meets, but nothing will happen to them if they miss work unless they don't show up for at least a third of the Knesset's sessions.

The Knesset Ethics Committee is authorized to deduct from the salaries of MKs who are absent without an acceptable reason - if they miss over a third of plenum sessions. The problem is that this committee often exhibits exceptional compassion and is willing to take into account most excuses.

There were 69 full Knesset sessions during the winter term, which means MKs could miss up to 23 of them. During the summer session, there were only 33 full sessions.

The figures therefore show that during nine and a half months, from October 15, 2006 to July 29, 2007, MKs could miss 34 days without needing to bring a note from their doctors - or their mothers. To this we must add another 55 days - not including Fridays and Saturdays - where MKs could miss work during the summer recess, which starts today and lasts until October 7.

This means that during an entire year, from October 2006 to October 2007, MKs can miss 89 days of work - in addition to weekends.

Of course, these days come instead of an annual vacation. As opposed to ministers, who enjoy 26 vacation days a year, and as opposed to public and private employees who also have the right to an annual vacation, MKs have no official vacation allotment. They are expected to take their vacations during the Knesset recesses.

It is true that the Knesset recesses are long; for example, when compared with the one-and-a half-month vacation for the courts. And of course there is ample public criticism of these long recesses and the MKs' absences.

However, given the behavior of many Knesset members, maybe we are all better off if they do take long vacations. Maybe that way some of them will cause less damage - and stop the deterioration to the Knesset's public image.