Pregnant MKs Not Entitled to Maternity Leave

Two lawmakers currently pregnant: Gila Gamliel is having her first child; Anastasia Michaeli is now enceinte with her eighth child.

Should members of parliament be entitled to maternity leave? Momentarily putting aside economic crises and the drought, this is one of many knotty issues the new Knesset under Benjamin Netanyahu will evidently have to tackle.

Moreover, there's a deadline for dealing with this one, because for the first time in its history, Israel has pregnant parliamentarians.

Two of them, in fact: Gila Gamliel of Likud, 35, is having her first child, and Anastasia Michaeli, 33, a former model, now enceinte with her eighth child.

Nurit Elstein, the legal counsel to Israel's parliament, recently handed down her opinion that Michaeli and Gamliel are not entitled to maternity leave. That's because employer-worker relations do not exist between the parliamentarians and the Knesset, or between the Knesset members and the public.

In other words, a member of Knesset isn't a worker - he or she in this case is an elected official, according to Elstein.

So what's to be done? Elstein suggested that Michaeli and Gamliel decide for themselves when to return to parliament after they give birth, and when to be absent. During that period, they will continue to receive pay.

For example, the two could be alerted by the parties to which they belong, in the event of important votes in the parliament.

Under Israeli law, a woman is entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave. Her salary is covered by the National Insurance Institute. Her place of employment may not, by law, alert her to come to work during that time - a perk Israel's presently pregnant parliamentarians won't enjoy after giving birth.

Also, a woman may extend her maternity leave by another month in certain cases, for example if she or the baby fall ill. The employer is prohibited from firing the woman during a period of two months following the end of maternity leave, except under certain circumstances that require the approval of the minister of labor.

Knesset sources say the Ethics Committee, which has the power to rule that pay be withheld from a Knesset member who misses plenary sessions, would show consideration for the two women's situation. For instance, absence from the plenum would be tolerated for the sake of breast-feeding, being with the newborn and so on.

Gamliel serves as deputy minister at the prime minister's office, responsible for women's issues and youth. She is due in September, when the Knesset is on break anyway, and intends to be absent for about six weeks.

Michaeli commented only that she'd decide what to do after the birth.