First came the building renovations, then the ban on jeans and flip-flops, and now, in what is being called the "Parliamenting of the Knesset," English classes will be offered to all employees.
"We used to be embarrassed about how unprofessional the Knesset was compared to other parliaments in the world," said one longtime Knesset aide. "Now I tell people I work in 'the Parliament,'" she added in an attempt at a British accent.
Next week, staff workers, legislative aides, spokespeople and MKs can sign up for an intensive 60-hour English class. It is one of many new programs started by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to improve "etiquette and knowledge" at the legislature, a Knesset spokesman said.
"It was completely based on her own initiative," the spokesman said. "We asked around and discovered that many people would be interested in taking classes alongside their other duties in the Knesset."
The classes, which will be financed by the Knesset's operating budget, have already aroused the interest of many employees, including Olivier Dotan, an aide to MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu). "I registered for the classes right away," said Dotan. "The Knesset understands the importance of teaching English to its employees if it expects us to represent ourselves to an international audience."
Dotan, who rated his English as "above average," said the classes would help him brush up on his formal English.
"We use English on a regular basis, sending e-mails and greeting guests from other countries," said Dotan. Last week, Dotan helped Miller prepare materials in English before the lawmaker left for a trip to London.
Since 1991, MKs have been allocated a budget for tutors or language classes. During the previous Knesset, at least 15 legislators used that money for English lessons.
Next week, however, will be the first time that language classes will be made available to the rest of the Knesset staff.
"I think that the importance of English classes is clear," said a Labor Party aide. "I ask myself, though, why does this need to come out of the Knesset budget?"
Itzik has been criticized for spending Knesset funds on redecorating the building and offering classes to employees. She has eliminated several projects, such as the Office for Planning of Future Generations, but the overall budget has remained unchanged.
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