Taking Stock / Bubble of Corruption

We were wrong.

They really are compassionate, with an ear to the ground. They know exactly when it's time to come together to resolve the aches of a particular population.

It turns out they have felt pain, and can empathize with another's when presented to them; and more, they will act quickly and diligently to alleviate it.

Just look: On Monday the Knesset members granted special dispensation to a group of 200 outstanding youngsters. Impressed by their diligent labor, the MKs arranged to increase their salaries by tens of percentage points and have their expenses reimbursed, in total providing them with a further NIS 10 million a year.

Indeed, agreeing to increase the budget for parliamentary aides by NIS 10 million a year was as disgraceful in behavior as it was in character of the Knesset committee. While the government budget is being savagely slashed and welfare support is shrinking, there's enough money in the pot for an extra NIS 10 million for parliamentary aides.

The story is quite simple: The MKs wanted to pamper their own. Budgets for aides are a personal matter for the MKs, these assistants being one of their chief perks.

The aides are supposed to help the MKs in compiling new legislative proposals but in reality, many are kept occupied in promoting their MK's personal-political agenda, and serve as their drivers, messengers and valets, too.

There is that story about one MK who recently joined the legislative house. She famously roars at one aide, "Bring me my makeup!"

But no makeup can cover the ugliness and corruption of Israel's parliamentarians.

Gronau, enter stage left

To legitimize the beast, the MKs asked a public committee run by Prof. Reuben Gronau to look into the aides' employment terms. But in appointing the committee members, the MKs were guaranteeing what the answer would be: more money.

The committee was not asked to decide on priorities. It was not asked which was the more important - more money for cancer drugs or for Knesset drivers. Their mandate was just to look at the aides' remuneration, so they naturally answered that a NIS 5 million budget increase would be fine.

But the MKs had expected more, and this is the point at which they whipped off the mask and declared that the committee was total bull, and they had no intention of quailing before the appearance of proper governance. We will get the money for our aides and that's that.

Drat! Foiled! Or not

So our elected representatives convened the Knesset House Committee, which promptly voted to increase the budget for aides by NIS 10 million, enabling each representative to get an extra, third aide. Certainly, our elected representatives need that: one to get the makeup, one to prepare a list of bar mitzvahs and weddings of party members with clout, and one to wash the car.

The Gronau committee? It did its work, but it did not give the MKs what they wanted. Can they really just ignore what it said? Apparently. That is the beauty of being a Knesset member: you can simply vote yourself whatever you like. Paradise.

Make no mistake, there must be parliamentary aides who do real, hard, diligent work. We are sure of it. We are equally sure that there are hundreds of thousands of civil servants who also work like dogs, and their reward has been salary cuts and humiliation. The aides were spared, and just because their task is to make the MKs' quality of life better and better.

After this latest show of pure insensitivity by the MKs, it would be stupid to expect them to seriously contend with economic reforms and reprioritizing Israel's spending. They can take care of their personal matters with the press of a button. Why should they care what's happening outside their bubble in Jerusalem?