(photo credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
The cabinet on Sunday approved the appointment of Avi Simhon as Israel’s economics ‘czar’ as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured them that Simhon – who has made controversial statements in the past about haredim and immigrants from the former Soviet Union – was “committed to all citizens of Israel” and the country’s economy.
Netanyahu named Simhon head of the National Economic Council last month, making him the premier’s top economic adviser.
Economy Minister Arye Deri absented himself from the vote on Simhon’s appointment, saying before the vote that while he respected Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Simhon, his comments about large haredi families were “very problematic and infuriating.”
“I am proud that I am the father to nine children and a grandfather of 19,” Deri said.
“From where I come from, every boy and girl is a blessing, a joy and a complete world.
We Jews, who lost six million people in the Holocaust, need to encourage birth rates and not attack those who decided to bring many children into the world,” he said.
At the Sderot Conference for Society in 2010, while serving as a top adviser to former finance minister Yuval Steinitz, Simhon had said haredim should be told that it is irresponsible for them to have large families, and that they are harming their children and the society.
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“A regular person checks how many children he supports, and his taxes are allocated to those who have eight children without the means by which to support them,” Simhon had said.
That same year, he also made disparaging comments about immigrants from the former Soviet Union, saying many were not Jews and came to the country because “they had some grandfather who was once Jewish. They came here out of economic considerations.
If they had the chance to go to a more developed country, they would have gone there.”
Following the cabinet vote, Simhon issued a statement saying he was “grateful for the confidence the prime minister and the entire cabinet have vested in me. I am aware of the responsibility demanded of the chairman of the National Economic Council and am committed to leading processes to strengthen the Israeli economy for the benefit of all citizens and sectors – Ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, new immigrants and veteran citizens.”
Prior to his appointment, Simhon was a member of the Environmental Economics and Management department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and served as a member of the Trajtenberg Committee on socioeconomic change.
He will replace Eugene Kandel, who served as chairman of the NEC for six years before announcing his resignation in July. Kandel has been named CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, a non-profit that promotes Israeli innovation abroad.
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