Susan Hattis Rolef spoke at the AACI Netanya AGM on her experience working for 16 years as a researcher at the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). She was born in Haifa and she has a PhD in International Relations from Geneva, Switzerland. Most research departments of parliaments are part of the library, but in Israel research is a separate department. Its job is writing research papers on topics requested by Members of the Knesset (MK’s), Knesset Committees and the Knesset administration.
She said that when she started there was no website in any Parliament (including the American Congress). As the person responsible in the Knesset Research and Information Center for international cooperation she was active in the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD) that acts as a clearing house for inquiries from the parliaments that are members, including all the European parliaments, with the US, Canada and Israel participating as observers. She is currently writing a book on the job of being a Knesset Member in international perspective.
In most parliaments in countries with parliamentary systems of government, the large majority of laws that are passed are proposed by the government, while in Israel only half of the laws come from the government. This indicates two things, first that Israeli MK’s consider themselves independent enough to sponsor their own bills, and second that because of the sometimes fragile coalition governments in Israel, some Ministers prefer to have bills they want passed sponsored by others. Also, of the private members’ bills presented to the Knesset, only 5% are actually passed and come into law. But, its difficult to compare different parliaments, because many bills are tabled and come up time and time again.
One of her most difficult and quite surprising topics is that there is no actual job description of an MK. Of course, he represents his voters, but unlike any civil servant his job is not defined in law. She has done research on this topic in other parliaments and this surprising fact applies in all democracies. This causes many problems, for example, when there are scandals, such as happened recently in the UK, when MP’s were found to have requested illicit funds to cover their housing expenses in London, adding such bizzare items as cleaning a moat around the house.
The Knesset is one of the only parliaments in the world where members are not allowed to hold a second job, or earn additional income to their Knesset salary. Rolef’s book will be an original survey regarding what MK’s and their colleagues abroad not only do, but ought to do, written by someone who is an academic researcher also with practical experience of working in a parliament.