MKs trade barbs over vacations abroad

As news of a cease-fire resolution at the United Nations was argued by left- and right-wing parties, the majority of Knesset members were fully engaged in a much more heated debate: who from among their ranks had taken a vacation. Since the Knesset began its summer recess two weeks ago, nearly one third of MKs have given notice that they would be taking leave from their political activities. Many of those MKs have since changed their plans to include "hasbara," or pro-Israel PR, as part of their vacation plans. However, among the MKs who have postponed their vacations there have been harsh words for those who have taken leave. "At this time, when Israel is in a state of war, it is of the utmost important that political officials remain in Israel and reassure the country," said MK Israel Hasson. During the recess, the committees continue to meet, although the plenum can only convene under a special "emergency session" status granted by the Knesset speaker. Hasson's words came amid a controversy over one MK in particular, Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima), who holds the high-profile position of chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hanegbi's stay abroad began while the Knesset was still in session, during the week that Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from his post just outside the Gaza Strip. Amid calls for an investigation into the series of events that led to the kidnapping, the committee came under heavy criticism for its failure to meet promptly over the issue. It took nearly a week for Hanegbi to return to his post in the Knesset; since then, however, he has left Israel once again - for a four-day family visit to the United States. "This is the committee directly tied with our armed forces and its chairman takes a vacation?" blasted one Labor MK. "It is simply irresponsible." A spokeswoman for Hanegbi issued a response through the Knesset's media office declaring the entire controversy "over-inflated." According to the statement, Hanegbi's current visit to the United States will only last four days and had been scheduled only so that he could see his family, which has been traveling in the US for over a month without him. "Do the MKs in the Knesset have nothing better to worry about?" asked a friend of Hanegbi's in the Kadima Party. "They are just trying to place blame." Meanwhile, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, set aside the controversy over his successor and urged the government to reject the UN cease-fire plan. On the Left, Meretz MKs Ran Cohen and Zehava Gal-On urged the government to immediately accept the UN's calls for a cease-fire.