I’ve complained several times (here and here) about the number of ministers and deputy ministers in the planned unity government and their cost. But this is only the symptom of the real problem.
What’s truly wrong is that portfolios are given out as bribes and rewards for political support. Who wouldn’t want to be a cabinet minister, with assistants, a driver, a high salary, and other perquisites? Sometimes the selections are ludicrous. Amir Peretz is a dedicated public servant, but he was eminently unqualified to be Defense Minister back in 2006 during the disastrous war with Hezbollah, when he was famously photographed looking through binoculars without removing the lens caps (yes, I know, even Bibi has done this, and Peretz took off the caps after the photo was taken. But the symbolism was accurate).
But take (please!) present Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman, who has no professional medical qualifications, and has allowed his personal interests and those of his community to affect his decisions. He opposed restrictions on tobacco advertising in print media which would have cut the revenue of a newspaper published by his political/religious faction, and where his wife works. He has been credibly accused of intervening to prevent the extradition to Australia of a convicted pedophile, Malka Leifer. His ministry has recently been sharply criticized by doctors for its handling of the Coronavirus epidemic; Litzman violated his own ministry’s guidelines prohibiting large gatherings and managed to catch the disease himself. He has recently announced that he will be resigning his position, but will be moving to a new post for which he is not qualified, Minister of Construction and Housing:
Litzman told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday he would agree to switch portfolios as long as the Construction and Housing Ministry will include the powerful Israel Lands Authority. Litzman’s rabbi, Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, told him the Construction portfolio was needed to help his haredi (ultra-Orthodox) constituency.
Litzman clearly agrees with Plato’s Polemarchus that true justice is helping one’s friends and harming one’s enemies. I would like to believe that we have gone beyond that.
Some of the appointments do make sense. Benny Gantz, a former Chief of Staff, knows how to operate binoculars. The Justice Minister will be Avi Nissenkorn, who is at least a lawyer, although he’s expected to undo steps taken by former minister Ayelet Shaked to improve the balance of power between the government and the Supreme Court. Amir Peretz will be Economy Minister; he has been on both sides of the fence, calling strikes as head of the Histadrut labor federation, and trying to keep expenditures under control as Finance Minister. I’m hopeful that highly competent interim Defense Minister and head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett will find a place in the Cabinet.
The reason that we will get to 36 ministers and 16 Deputy Ministers is simple: the leaders of the various parties that will make up the coalition all demand payment for their participation. If it turns out that the politician to be honored happens to know something about his new job, that’s a plus; but it’s definitely secondary to the main reason for his appointment. When there isn’t an existing ministry for someone to be in charge of, one is created for them. The coalition agreement calls for an equal division of portfolios between Netanyahu’s bloc and Gantz’ faction, which only has 15 members. Most of these, therefore, will become ministers.
It appears that nobody will be left to sit on Knesset committees from Gantz’ party. Kashia [a problem]? Lo kashia! There is a law (the so-called “Norwegian law”) that says a cabinet minister can resign from the Knesset and allow his place to be taken by the next one on his party’s Knesset list. So the new Minister of Silly Walks can concentrate on his ministerial job while a new highly paid position has been created for yet another politician. How charming. One is reminded that cows can die from blood loss due to mosquitos, if there are enough of them.
Everybody knows this is a bad thing, even most of the politicians themselves. But the organization itself, like a swarm of mosquitos, seems to develop a will of its own, even if it runs counter to the will of the individual members – and, needless to say, the will of the Israeli voters that elected them in the hope that they would perform the basic functions of government with honesty, competence, and economy.
These are the three things we expect from every employee or contractor, from plumbers and taxi drivers to corporate CEOs. Shouldn’t we get it from government ministers as well?
As many have pointed out the size of the government is particularly shameful at a time when so many Israelis have lost their means of livelihood. One would expect all the ministers to agree to reductions in their salary as way of expressing solidarity with the people they are supposed to serve. There is no doubt that the whole business of buying support to make a coalition has become shameful and counter-productive in Israel. The country as a whole has been for too long held hostage in this way.
It may well be better now to have a government rather than a fourth election, but who can possibly be having with the government we are getting?