Balashnikov takes over as Beit Hanassi director-general

Although his boss Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik is only acting president until the results of the upcoming presidential elections, Knesset Director-General Avi Balashnikov on Monday became director-general of Beit Hanassi without the word "acting" in his title. "I have two positions," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I am director-general of the Knesset and I am director-general of Beit Hanassi." Balashnikov replaces Moshe Goral, who was appointed by President Moshe Katsav, and whose name has been linked with some of the allegations against Katsav which are not of a sexual nature. It was suggested to Goral, who suffers from heart trouble, and who in recent months has been seriously ill, that he step down for health reasons in order to avoid being dismissed. Balashnikov was appointed by Itzik in accordance with the opinion of Knesset legal adviser Nurit Elstein. Her opinion was ratified by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, as a result of which Balashnikov won the approval of the Knesset Finance Committee. Balashnikov, 40, a Haifa University alumnus, a resident of Jerusalem, married to Revital and the father of four, has had a meteoric career since his failed attempt to become a member of Knesset. In 1999, he ran on Pnina Rosenblum's ticket the first time she tried to join the legislature. At that time, the position of Knesset director-general did not exist, and no one could have imagined that eight years later Balashnikov would hold so much sway not only over the Knesset but also over Beit Hanassi. When Itzik was elected Speaker of the Knesset in May 2006, she brought Balashnikov to work at her side, and created a new position for him. He had been her director-general at the Communications Ministry and before that he was her director-general at the Ministry for Trade and Industry and the Environment Ministry. In the period during which Itzik was out of government, Balashnikov served as deputy director-general of the Israel Export Institute in which capacity he traveled abroad with Katsav as a trade delegation point man and supervisor. One of Balashnikov's first duties at Beit Hanassi will be to oversee the arrangements for the formal transfer of authority by outgoing chief of General Staff Dan Halutz to his successor Gabi Ashkenazi. Beit Hanassi is one of several traditional venues for the ceremony, due to take place on Wednesday. Although not a state ceremony in the strict sense, it will be Itzik's first as acting president beneath the roof of Beit Hanassi.