Time for professional ministers
The coalition process guarantees that cabinet positions are given to politicians who have no experience in the relevant fields.
Katamon Photo: Courtesy
With the results of the elections now final, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu will presumably form a coalition government.
Most folks will
view this process as the lowest level of political horse-trading: “V for V”;
“Votes for Volvos.”
More charitable commentators will note that the
formation of a government, like any negotiation process, requires the various
participants to compromise on some of their positions for the greater goal of
“getting the deal done”; in this case, to create a stable body that can lead the
Israeli populace through the complex future which awaits us.
takes a cynical or optimistic view of the process, one thing is certain: The
coalition process guarantees that important cabinet positions will be given to
politicians who have no experience in the relevant fields or, even worse, are
totally unqualified for any management position.
It is interesting to
contrast the Israeli process with that of the United States. Let us look at some
of the significant ministries and see how the most senior positions at these
offices are staffed in the two countries.
It is quite clear that one of
the crucial issues in the recent elections was the question of affordable
housing. The so-called popular revolution last year was based on this issue and
it featured prominently in all of the political campaigns.
On the eve of
the elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a last-minute attempt to be seen as
the one who would lower housing costs, announced that Moshe Kahlon would serve
as head of the Israel Lands Authority. The argument was that just as Kahlon had
brought about a stark reduction in cellular telephone costs, he would oversee a
reduction in housing costs.
Who will be the next housing minister? While
it is not clear at all that Shas will be part of the new coalition, it has
“controlled” the Construction and Housing Ministry for the past four years.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, who previously served as
communication minister, has absolutely no secular education.
pundit put it: Israel is the only country where the communication minister does
not have a television in his home.) Prior to taking the position of housing
minister, Attias’ main connection with the housing shortage was his conviction
for illegally expanding his own home without a building permit and then failing
to act in accordance with the demolition order.
On the other hand, the
United States secretary of housing (“HUD”) is Shaun Donovan, who was the head of
the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, deputy
assistant secretary of HUD, and holds masters degrees in public policy and
architecture from Harvard.
Let’s look at the Transportation Ministry,
currently headed by Yisrael Katz. Katz is one of the ministers with an academic
degree – in International Relations from the Hebrew University.
his political career at the university as part of the Herut faction, where he
spearheaded violent demonstrations and even detained the rector of the
university in his office as part of a protest. For these actions, he was
suspended from the university.
Katz previously served as agriculture
minister, where he was the subject of a scathing report for appointing a
chairman of the public committee on milk pricing an individual who did not have
an academic degree, in defiance of a specific government decision.
that same year, police recommended the filing of an indictment against Katz for
alleged appointment of political cronies to senior positions and improper
contracting by agencies of his ministry. The case against Katz was closed
because of evidentiary problems, but several of his allies were indicted on
related charges. He has been transportation minister since 2009.
United States, the secretary of transportation is Ray LaHood, who served for
five years on the House Transportation and Infrastructure
LaHood was clearly a political appointee – he is a Republican
who supported McCain against Obama. The appointment of an individual with
substantial experience as secretary of transportation was a bipartisan gesture
to bring a professional, experienced individual into the post, notwithstanding
his political affiliation.
The analysis could go on. For example, the
secretary of commerce of the United States is now Rebecca Blank, who holds a PhD
in economics from MIT, and was a member of the Council of Economic
Our minister of industry, trade and commerce was a social
worker and farmer.
The above is not to say that all or even any of the
members of the Israeli government who head government ministries are incapable
Indeed, many of them are highly qualified and skilled
individuals. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who was one of Israel’s leading
lawyers, is a prime example. (When he was previously appointed to a cabinet
post, he was immediately indicted and resigned. A year later the court found
that there was essentially no basis for the charges. Some claim that the attack
against Neeman was designed in part precisely to prevent professional outsiders
from taking posts away from politicians.) It may even be argued that one of the
advantages of the method of appointment of cabinet ministers is that it provides
government members with a wide range of experience and conversely provides the
government with a wide range of views. For example Amir Peretz has served in
positions ranging from chairman of the Histadrut Labor Union to defense
minister, notwithstanding that he lacked any education or experience in either
area. Sometimes, the fresh view of a garlic farmer/social worker is useful in
matters of international defense policy.
Having said that, if the
American experience is a guide, it can safely be argued that appointing
non-political, professional, experienced, skilled and highly educated
individuals to cabinet positions could be of benefit to the government and the
populace in general.
Yair Lapid and other new politicians have called for
limitations on the number of cabinet posts to be created. Let us see if they,
together with the prime minister, can take the plunge and go one step further:
appointing professionals – as opposed to political hacks – to these senior
The writer is an advocate and attorney at law.