PostScript: A matter of culture
The number of ministries has to be cut, the deputy ministers culled, and logic applied as to how the executive handles itself.
PM Netanyahu at weekly cabinet meeting Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
According to the Knesset website, Israel has 30 cabinet ministers, including one
unabashedly called the minister for the improvement of government
There are also three ministers without portfolio, whatever that
may mean other than bureaus, secretaries, spokesmen, drivers, cars, and a staff
breaking their heads to spend the budgets that come their way.
two vice prime ministers and, at last count, four deputy prime ministers, each
with their own contingent of advisers, spokesmen and so on, in addition to those
who work in the other ministries they run.
And then, of course, we have
nine deputy ministers, including the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s
Office, who was denied a formal job title when those putting together the
current cabinet ran out of ideas, but ensured that the deputy Minister of
nothing would have a large enough staff to do nothing with.
the economy, however, Binyamin Netanyahu, in addition to being prime minister,
is also the minister of health, minister for economic strategy and minister for
pensioner affairs, saving us three ministers but, unfortunately, not the civil
servants who come with them, hundreds of good folks, some seasoned bureaucrats,
others political hacks getting payoffs.
Then we have a minister for the
development of the Negev and the Galilee, as if these were not integral parts of
Israel but distant colonies that need their own administrations. Just to
complicate things, the minister in charge of the Negev and Galilee is also the
minister of regional development.
These two, however, should not be
confused with the ministry for rural affairs or the ministry for national
infrastructure, which have their own protective staffs and consider both the
Negev and the Galilee as their turf. These folks, in turn, it turns out,
devote most of their energy and time to making sure that the Development
Minister, who has a separate ministry for the development of the Negev and the
Galilee, both considered rude impostors in the development field, get nothing
In terms of the country’s defense, we now have the ministry for
strategic affairs, the ministry of defense, the ministry of intelligence and
atomic energy, the ministry for the home front defense and the ministry of
internal security. This is supposed to make you sleep well at night.
consequence we now have armies of bureaucrats running around echoing corridors,
looking for threats that can make them relevant, fighting each other for pieces
of the pie, and neither cooperating nor sharing information with each other for
reasons of “national security.” Nothing, to be sure, is ever shared with the
Foreign Ministry, regarded to be “enemy territory” when it comes to secrets,
while the two vice premiers, four deputy prime ministers and nine deputy
ministers, including the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, are
almost all the prime minister’s political rivals and by instruction kept out of
Obviously a cabinet like this is not only horrifically
inefficient, but also incredibly expensive. If one could get one’s hands on the
figures, I guarantee total shock and disbelief would greet what it costs to keep
the ministry for strategic affairs afloat, let alone the 29 others at the
cabinet level, the vice and deputy prime ministers, the nine deputy ministers
and the minions now serving them.
All this came to mind when the recent
bout of gas price increases were announced. If we did not go through with them,
we were told by the prime minister himself, that if gas prices were not raised
and the taxes that go with them, Israel may have to cut down on the Iron Dome
missile defense system that has been so stunningly successful in combatting
rockets being hurled at Israel’s southern cities from Gaza.
Then, in an
about face, the prime minister, probably in his capacity as minister for
economic strategy, overruled the finance minister and his host of bureaucrats,
but with the support of the minister for national infrastructure, dropped the
proposed hike in gas prices and, miraculously, announced an increase in Iron
Dome production at the same time.
The difference, he explained, would
come from an across-the-board two per cent cut in the budgets of all ministries,
a noble idea, but which actually translates into higher education, health and
energy costs passed on to the public.
From every perspective, including
efficiency, it would have been far more sensible for the prime minister to cut
the number of ministries by 20 percent instead of their budgets by
But then politics is politics, and in Israel the culture of politics
is all in the pay-off and power, being able to give jobs to the mates and fatten
up blocs of future voters by pushing money their way. We have known
forever that the religious affairs ministry and several others are there to make
Shas and the other religious parties relevant. That’s fine. But when it
comes to multiple agencies dealing with national security, development, it is
time to get worried.
Israel’s coalition culture has brought about
spending habits this country can ill afford. Fuel costs, indirect taxes and just
the cost of basic food in this country, are out of control.
It is time
for government belt-tightening before we get hit with more costs. The number of
ministries has to be cut, the deputy ministers culled, and logic applied as to
how the executive handles itself.
Until this happens, we are faced with a
culture of political corruption that has lost all shame.
The writer is a
Senior Research Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel
Aviv University. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival,
received the 2012 National Jewish Book Award first prize in the history