(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset members are provided with everything from newspapers to greeting cards in special budgets allotted to them - but when it comes to English lessons, many MKs apparently aren't interested.
After discovering a huge surplus in the NIS 400,000 budget allotted to MKs for English tutors, the Special Committee on the Knesset Budget has announced it is slashing the funds available to MKs.
"Every MK who still wants to take a class can. We just discovered that we didn't need all that money there," said a Knesset spokesman.
According to figures from the first half of 2006, less than 10 percent of the 120 Knesset members hired tutors for English lessons. Each MK is allotted NIS 3,000 for the tutoring.
"I think it is disgraceful that more MKs haven't taken the classes," said one Labor MK with excellent English. "It's a free service that the state pays for because we need it. It's always embarrassing when an MK can't converse in a language as universal as English."
During the last elections, Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Amir Peretz was slammed for his poor English skills after he stumbled through a speech at the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial. Since then, Peretz has employed a private tutor and has "improved greatly" according to personal aides.
Others, however, said they simply "don't see the point" in English lessons.
"There are some MKs here with questionable Hebrew," said one Shas MK, who acknowledged that he does not feel comfortable speaking conversational English. "We are, after all, the Israeli parliament and there are other pressing matters that we could be giving our attention to."
Maybe it's just that the MKs are planning on relying more on their assistants. Knesset classes for parliamentary aides and employees are in full swing, said Michal Franco, an aide to Danny Yatom (Labor) and head of the union for parliamentary aides. More than 90 people have enrolled in the classes, with most falling into an intermediary level.
"There has been huge interest in the classes and a lot of aides know it will be extremely useful to them in the future," said Franco.
According to one parliamentary aide, the lessons may encourage more MKs to take their aides with them on trips abroad.
"If MKs don't learn other languages, they will have to take us with them wherever they travel," said the aide. "But don't worry. Eventually we'll be taking over and the Knesset will have already taught us all the English we need."