'Decision to let MKs to fly business class reflects reality'

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s office defends Rivlin’s decision, arguing those who opposed it were attempting to make political hay.

February 9, 2010 00:39
3 minute read.
rivlin in knesset 298

rivlin in knesset 298 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

Fending off intense criticism for allowing MKs to travel business class during work-related flights, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s office defended Rivlin’s decision Monday, arguing that those who opposed it were attempting to make political hay.

Rivlin’s spokesman Harel Tubi told The Jerusalem Post that all of the members of the Knesset Speakers’ Committee – a steering committee that includes both opposition and coalition MKs – supported Rivlin’s decision during their weekly meeting Monday.

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Rivlin’s office added that the proposal was simply codifying current procedures. Fewer than a dozen MKs, they said, actually traveled in economy class in recent Knessets. The others submitted various explanations – including knee and back pain, special status as a former minister, pregnancy and the need to arrive and immediately begin work – as justifications for ordering the significantly more expensive tickets.

A number of veteran MKs who preferred to remain nameless said that they thought that the proposal was realistic and purposeful. They told stories of being harassed by passengers while flying for official purposes, and added that in practice, elderly or infirm MKs generally flew in business class.

Frequently, some MKs or groups of MKs were afforded free upgrades – a practice that put them at risk of ethics violations for accepting a valuable perk.

But earlier Monday, Prof. Reuven Gronau of the Public Committee to Determine Salary and Payments for MKs, told the House Committee that his panel had recommended the upgrade to business class only on flights longer than six hours. Such upgrades are the current procedure for directors-general of government ministries.

Gronau appeared before the House Committee for a hearing on the subject of special services for MKs with special needs, such as restricted mobility.

Asked about flights, Gronau said that there is no clear guideline and that “on long flights MKs travel in business, but on shorter flights some fly in business while others fly in economy.”

His committee, he said, had suggested three weeks ago that the same criteria applied to directors-general be applied to MKs.

The only response to their recommendation that Gronau knew of was the article published Monday morning in Hebrew-language daily Yediot Aharonot revealing – and blasting – Rivlin’s decision.

“It is a pity that the House Committee had to hear about this from the media,” complained House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud). “A topic like this should be grounded in a fair and appropriate debate.”

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said that he opposed the upgrade, as did MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima).

But other MKs, speaking to Rivlin behind closed doors, said that they understood the decision. Even opposition MKs reportedly told the speaker that if they were forced to face public criticism every time they traveled overseas on official business, they preferred to remain in Israel.

Sources close to Rivlin had particularly harsh words for attempts to tie the flight upgrades to a recent decision to issue tenders for committee spokesmen.

“Anyone who thinks that these [decisions] are designed to curry favor with MKs should look carefully at the facts,” said one staffer. “The committee spokespeople aren’t presents for the committee chairmen. They won’t work for the committee chairmen, nor will they answer to them, but rather to the Knesset spokesman.

“In fact, part of the goal is to neutralize the political impact of the committee chairmen by having a spokesman who will report everything that was said, and not just what the chairman wants released.”

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