Comment: Labors lost

Another of the country’s major challenges: Egotistical behavior by the people who're supposed to put country's well-being ahead of their own.

By AMIR MIZROCH
January 19, 2011 00:49
Barak speaks to reporters at the Knesset, Monday

Barak press conference 311. (photo credit: Channel 10)

 
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It is infuriating to see – once again, for the umpteenth time – competent professionals, advisers, officials and functionaries from several important government ministries packing up their belongings into cartons and leaving their offices on very short notice, just because their ministers have suddenly resigned.

On Tuesday, at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and the Minority Affairs Ministry, dozens of professionals shredded documents, cleared up their desks, packed away pictures of their loved ones and headed out of their offices into an unknown future.

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Some will return to the private sector from which they were enticed – not with promises of riches and power, but with a sense of mission and serving the country. Many of those who left on Tuesday wrote their own glowing letters of reference and got the ministers to sign them.

Once again, policies are left unimplemented, long-term strategies are thrown into the wastebasket, oversight and inspection of existing projects are abandoned and the work of an entire ministry is left suspended, incomplete and in a shambles.

While the various directors-general promise an orderly handover to the new team that the new minister will invariably bring in, everyone knows that this is really the core problem Israel still hasn’t managed to fix.

The too-regular changing of ministers and directors-general in important ministries leaves this country with an inability to create and implement long-term strategic plans and projects.



In the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, this situation debilitates the completion of important infrastructure projects, the development of new industrial zones in the periphery, and projects to encourage greater workforce participation in the haredi and Arab sectors, as well as harming foreign trade – and so on and so on.

In the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the situation is potentially life-threatening to populations that need close support. Important projects that have an immediate and practical impact on people’s lives are left without the proper frameworks for oversight and development.

In all spheres – labor, trade and social welfare – professionals have been working for at least the past two years on creating and implementing serious, strategic policies for the good of the people.

Today, those people are looking for jobs in the private sector because they’ve had enough of the public sector’s vicissitudes and instabilities. Next time it will be harder to get these quality people back.

These goings-on, meanwhile, come at a time when there is no long-term planning in the Foreign Ministry, because it doesn’t know what policy to plan for – the foreign minister is ideologically opposed to the policies of the Prime Minister’s Office. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan is not doing any long-term policy planning, either, because he is still deciding whether to take up the post of ambassador to the UN.

And here’s another total waste of public resources, with potentially disastrous consequences: Why was it deemed necessary to create yet another ministry in this already over-bloated government and appoint Labor MK Matan Vilna’i as minister responsible for the home front within the Defense Ministry?

Vilna’i was already serving as deputy defense minister, with responsibility for the home front. What new budgets, powers and responsibilities will Vilna’i bring to his new job?

If, as is expected, the next war hits our home front with an unheard-of ferocity, the home front will be crucial to this country’s ability to sustain a lengthy and costly military engagement. If Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu give Vilna’i real budgets and real powers, this new ministry is to be welcomed.

If, however, this was just a little sweet to entice the hapless, none-too-popular and politically barren Vilna’i to join Barak in his new political venture – and the new office has no real meaning – it is to be immediately and roundly condemned. A serious replacement must be installed to oversee home front preparations.

And how did Labor get here? This is an insight into what is perhaps another one of this country’s major challenges: egotistical behavior by the very people who are supposed to put the well-being of the country ahead of their personal interests.

For example: How is it possible that Labor – whose members were a group of people with a similar political, ideological and social platform (well, everyone except for Barak) – could form such a fractured party, with no less than three different factions?

How could such staunch social democrats and peace doves agree on absolutely nothing, except their utter contempt for each other?

Compared with Kadima and the Likud, Labor had the most homogenous ideological line. One would think this convergence of purpose would bring the party’s politicians together.

Their egos got in the way of their ideology, it seems.

Barak has clearly expended a lot of energy on his political front, hopefully not at the expense of his defense duties. In the end, he comes off looking like a politician who cares only for his job, and not a defense minister and head of the Labor party in a democratic country, working tirelessly, single-mindedly on security and defense issues.

And finally, what about Kadima? What kind of party is it? A centrist party? A Center- Left party? A Center-Right party?

What about the Likud? How far to the right is it? Especially now, with a party chairman and prime minister saying he is ready for a two-state deal with the Palestinians?

Kadima finds itself in an interesting position: Its elected MKs are Center-Right-aligned, but its voters are former Labor and Meretz voters (i.e., leftists).

Will these voters stay with Kadima if what’s left of Labor coalesces around a new leftist movement? Will Kadima have to go left to keep these voters? Will the Likud go left to weaken Kadima?

One hopes that Netanyahu will takes a close look at what Barak has wrought, with the knowledge that this could come to pass in the Likud, too.

If Netanyahu is forced into a diplomatic endgame with the Palestinians – or comes up with one himself – he will also face serious fractures in his own party.

He might one day have to do what Barak just did.

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