Finance Ministry budget chief quits, furious with Katz's behavior

Finance Ministry Head of the Budget Department submits a three-page resignation letter, ending a turbulent relationship with the minister who accused him of undermining him.

Budget director Shaul Meridor attends a press conference at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem on December 11, 2017. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Budget director Shaul Meridor attends a press conference at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem on December 11, 2017.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Finance Ministry budget director Shaul Meridor resigned Sunday evening because performing his duties became impossible under Finance Minister Israel Katz, he said.
“To my regret, you don’t allow me and other public servants in other wings of the ministry to do what we know how to do,” Meridor wrote to Katz.
Working for the minister, decisions are taken under the “influence of narrow interest [groups], without reasons... the message to the business sector, citizens of this country and to the world is that all principles are broken,” he wrote. “All limits and boundaries, as well as [moral] values, [are] crushed under foot. I have never seen such behavior.”
“I can no longer be a part of the system and offer legitimacy to a series of wrong decisions,” Meridor wrote, adding that the people of Israel will pay “heavily” for these alleged wrong decisions “for years to come.”
He blamed Katz for “creating fictional [data] sources to offer extra budgets” and operating outside his ministry’s decision-making process.
President Reuven Rivlin expressed deep regret over the resignation and said he was deeply worried because of the “harsh step [Meridor] took and what it means.”
Meridor is “a first-rate professional and one of the most devoted public servants I had the privilege to work with in the last few years,” he said. “Now more than ever, Israel needs a professional and powerful public service branch,” he added.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said Meridor knew “how to see the people via the numbers and knew how to work with numbers for the benefit of [Israel’s] citizens.”
His departure was a sad event, he said, adding that he was “positive [Meridor] will benefit the nation’s economy greatly.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote that the resignation is “not a road sign warning of danger but a real-time alarm.”
The opposition leader said that “Israel’s economy became a disaster zone” and compared the way things are being run to the Yom Kippur War calamity.
Katz called the resignation “a proper and clear step,” saying Meridor “began to operate in a blunt and public manner against the government policy” because of alleged “narrow political considerations.”
He said he had “given a lot of support to the professional officials in the Finance [Ministry],” including Meridor.
Katz said he intends to “soon propose a worthy and professional replacement” for Meridor’s position.
Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweeted that not only does he congratulate Meridor for his resignation, he hopes “several others will follow in his footsteps.”
Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron said that “Israel’s credit rating is not dependent on this or that person, no matter how high-placed they are” and urged the government to approve a budget for the next year as soon as possible. He thanked Meridor for his work.
Katz and Meridor have had a long and difficult relationship, during which the minister screamed at him to “be quiet or I’ll have you removed” during a work meeting in early August.
Katz was responding to a briefing by the ministry’s legal adviser about how, according to the procedures of the ministry, the trained economists in the service calculate the cost of the various items the elected government wants to budget. Meridor said his team “will explain to the minister the precise nature of the calculation later,” which led to the outburst.
Meridor objected to the Check for Every Citizen plan championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Katz, saying that “this [plan] will turn us into Venezuela.”
Likud activists criticized him on social media for sabotaging the government’s work.
Another indication of the gap between Katz and Meridor could be seen during Knesset discussions, when Katz sat at one end of the table and members of his own ministry, who usually sat with him to offer data and help, sat at the opposite end.
“I will not have a budget within a budget,” Katz said at the time, KAN News reported, using an expression similar to the one used by Netanyahu, referring to “a government within the government.”