JPost Editorial: Transparent appointments

There is nothing wrong with political appointments.

January 12, 2017 21:49
3 minute read.
DONALD TRUMP, Melania Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConn

DONALD TRUMP, Melania Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As the inauguration ceremony for incoming US President Donald Trump approaches, the US Senate is vetting a slew of appointments.

The process that many of these nominees are forced to go through is grueling and includes grilling by experts, the hearing of testimonies and intense scrutiny of their records – all done very publicly with extensive media coverage in a conscious attempt to generate public interest and discourse and, ultimately, to ensure that the wrong man or woman is not chosen for the job.

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It is an enviable custom of America democracy that should provide inspiration for the Middle East’s only democracy. In Israel, too many key appointments are made behind closed doors, particularly in the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court.

No criteria serve as guidelines for who should and should not be appointed. No intense vetting process precedes the appointment and no scrutiny of the candidate’s record is conducted in a systematic way.

In 2010, then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a report stating: “The procedure for appointing officers’ jobs carrying a rank of major-general [generals who sit on the General Staff and make up the reservoir of candidates to become the IDF chief of staff] is nothing but a bargaining process between the chief of staff and the defense minister.”

“This so-called procedure,” Lindenstrauss wrote, “is not based on any framework, has no rules or regulations, is not clearly based on written materials or documents, is not documented and, for the most part, is dependent on the relations existing between the chief of staff and the minister of defense.” Only the chief of staff needs cabinet approval.

In the Shin Bet and the Mossad, high-ranking commanders are chosen in a process lacking any transparency. The heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad are invariably chosen from among these commanders.

The selection process for ambassadors also lacks transparency.

There is nothing wrong with political appointments.

The public or at the very least the public’s elected officials, however, have a right to scrutinize these appointments and determine whether they are worthy.

The selection process for Supreme Court justices, which has come under much criticism by the Right for perpetuating legal activism, lacks a thorough and public vetting process that enables legislators and citizens to get to know better the candidates for the nation’s highest court.

In contrast, Trump’s appointments are forced to undergo extensive vetting. For instance, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, was grilled for nine hours this week by the Senate.

Tillerson was asked to state his foreign policy vision, with special emphasis on Russia. He was queried about Russian war crimes in Syria, annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine. His close ties to Russia as ExxonMobil CEO came under scrutiny.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s choice for US attorney-general, was questioned about his positions on criminal justice reform and civil rights, and his views on homosexuals. Testimonies were heard about his involvement in fighting the Civil Rights movement in the South.

And when Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, testified against Sessions, it was the first time a sitting US senator had testified against another sitting US senator.

A similar process should be implemented in Israel – particularly in the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the Supreme Court. It might not be appropriate in all cases – particularly in the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Mossad – to allow a public appointment process. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee should, however, be involved in the vetting process. When candidates are forced to articulate their values and objectives they become more accountable. They have gone on record about their positions on policy matters, and they will be expected to adhere to these positions.

While the presidential system of government in the US is very different from Israeli parliamentary democracy, there are lessons to be learned from America. One of them is the value of the US appointment process for high-ranking officials who have a critical impact on the making of policy and its implementation.

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