The ministerial lure, why isn't it enough to be an MK anymore? - analysis

Now it is not enough to “just” serve in the parliament. Now it is necessary to be a minister, even if the ministry is hollow and void of any real substance.

Knesset meeting to pass bills to create coalition government on May 6, 2020 (photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN)
Knesset meeting to pass bills to create coalition government on May 6, 2020
(photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN)
“It is a great privilege to serve the people of Israel and the State of Israel as a Knesset member.”
Thus wrote Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar on his Twitter feed Sunday morning.
Sa’ar, who is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most formidable challenger at this point inside the Likud. Sa’ar, who unsuccessfully ran against Netanyahu in December’s Likud primary, but who forced the prime minister to get out and campaign. Sa’ar, who is only one of 18 Likud MKs who will not have a ministerial, deputy ministerial or committee chairmanship title before his name in the new government sworn in on Sunday.
In Blue and White, each of the 15 MKs is either a minister, deputy minister or committee chairperson.
Sa’ar’s tweet merited more than 3,600 “likes,” was retweeted 70 times and elicited 615 comments. Some of the comments were respectful and supportive, others mocking and snide.
But his tweet – whether genuine, as some of the comments believed it was – or simply the result of something he had to say, having been left out of the ministerial sweepstakes, reflects a noble sentiment that has been lost with the years.
Once upon a time, say when the first Knesset was sworn in back in 1949, being a part of an independent Jewish state’s legislature was its own award. That itself was a historic achievement, and the chance to sit in a Jewish parliament making laws for the first Jewish state in 2,000 years was thrilling enough.
But now, apparently, the thrill is gone. Now it is not enough to “just” serve in the parliament. Now it is necessary to be a minister, even if the ministry is hollow and void of any real substance, like the Intelligence Services Ministry, or the Settlements Ministry, or the Higher and Secondary Education Minister, or the Strategic Affairs Ministry, or the Community Strengthening and Advancement Ministry, all of which could easily be folded into existing ministries.
In David Ben-Gurion’s first government there were 13 ministers. In Netanyahu’s fifth government there are 34.  
Why? Why must everyone be a minister? What’s wrong with “just” being an MK and, as Sa’ar said, serving the nation in the parliament.
Well, for starters, the salary. In January, the Knesset members voted themselves a NIS 1,232 pay raise.
What that means is that the gross salary for a run-of-the-mill MK is now NIS 45,241 a month, while the monthly salary for a minister is NIS 50,623, or more than NIS 60,000 more a year.
But that’s not the only reason. Ministers also get perks that the standard MKs do not merit. For instance, they get a car with two drivers, they are given eight aides, instead of three who serve backbencher MKs, and – perhaps the best part – they are exempt from the day-to-day legislative grind.
They don’t have to bring pieces of legislature to the plenum; they don’t have to run from one committee to the next and vote as their party dictates. Their daily work is far less demanding and grueling. This is not the yeoman’s work.
Then there is the issue of travel. Though even ordinary MKs do not lack opportunities to travel abroad, they often go as part of bigger delegations. Ministers travel solo to meet their counterparts abroad.
Ministers also command a budget, something that ordinary MKs do not. Each ministry, even the least significant, comes with a budget, and budgets translate into patronage and power.
Ministerial positions, any ministerial position, also bring with them prestige and public stature and are springboards to better, more-influential positions in the future. Furthermore, the press pays more attention to ministers than they do to everyday parliamentarians.
It is not as if Intelligence Services Minister Eli Cohen is going to be making an overabundance of news. But when there are intelligence-related issues that the Mossad or the Israel Intelligence Agency are not going to want to talk about, the press will turn to Cohen for a quote from time to time, upping his public profile.
There are 120 Knesset members, and most of them have hefty political ambitions, meaning they have their eyes on the next job, the next position. Slugging it out in the parliamentary trenches may earn the plaudits of colleagues, but it rarely makes news or garners much public attention.
It’s tough to draw attention as a parliamentary backbencher. But a minister, even a minister of an insignificant ministry, that already sets you apart from the pack.