Middle Israel: Picking and assigning the 35th government’s ministers

The approaching broad government will also have the power to launch long-overdue revolutions. It is therefore imperative that its main tasks be placed in able hands.

Party leaders meet with President Reuven Rivlin  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Party leaders meet with President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse,” warned philosopher Edmund Burke.
Yet this column’s intention – to pick and assign the 35th government’s ministers – is urgent for a reason that is the opposite of Burke’s red light, because Israel’s most urgent crises actually demand power, the kind that in Israel only a broad government can wield.
Judging by Israel’s experience with broad governments, their ministers can have great impact, both positively and negatively, since broad coalitions, by definition, face weak parliamentary opposition.
That is how, for instance, Moshe Dayan’s appointment in 1967 as defense minister helped drive the IDF to victory in the Six Day War, and also inspired the arrogance that helped the enemy’s success at the outset of the Yom Kippur War.
Similarly, the appointment in 1984 of Yitzhak Moda’i as finance minister helped save the economy. A cosmetics manufacturer and small-scale millionaire, he knew capitalism well enough to understand what the economists were explaining to him about why and how to undo Israel’s unaffordable socialism, an ambitious goal that only a broad government could deliver.
The approaching broad government will also have the power to launch long-overdue revolutions. It is therefore imperative that its main tasks be placed in able hands.
Setting aside the premiership itself, which will rotate between Benny Gantz and the head of the Likud, whether Benjamin Netanyahu or a successor, there will be three sets of critical portfolios to split between the parties: the first will be Defense and Foreign Affairs; the second will be Finance and Education; and the last, but most important, will be Transportation, Justice, and Interior.
Who, then, should man these posts?
FOREIGN MINISTER should be Yair Lapid, for three reasons:
First of all, the job is custom-tailored for the telegenic newscaster who spent much of his time fighting the BDS movement. Secondly, Lapid really wants to be foreign minister. And lastly, he can restore some of the long-abused Foreign Ministry’s resources, clout and morale.
With Blue and White in the Foreign Ministry, Defense should go to the Likud.
The choice there is trickier, since Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Gallant thinks he is ideal for this position, an assumption many others will share, in line with Israeli conventional wisdom that the defense minister should be a retired general. That is, of course, wrong, both conceptually and concretely.
Conceptually, it is better that the military’s superior be a lifelong civilian. Concretely, the Likud has Israel Katz, who was an able transportation minister and also moonlighted as minister of strategic affairs, before he became the nominal foreign minister (the real one is Netanyahu). Besides his experience, in his personality Katz is both authoritative and cautious. He’ll be OK as defense minister.
Then come Finance and Education.
Finance should go to Blue and White, for two reasons: first, as a counterbalance to the Likud’s retention of defense; second, because it has an ideal, if improbable, candidate: Yael German.
Besides the bonus of a woman’s unprecedented arrival in this pivotal office, the 72-year-old German was an accomplished health minister and, before that, mayor of Herzliya. She will thus bring to the Treasury no less fiscal experience than any of the 24 men who held it since 1948, and this is besides having run an electronics factory for seven years and also having established a successful adult education school.
The Education Ministry should therefore go to a Likud minister.
For one thing, this would be a welcome change from the sectarian politicians the Likud repeatedly installed in this crucial office since giving it to the National Religious Party’s Zevulun Hammer 42 years ago. The education minister must represent the public mainstream, which is why Netanyahu’s Rafi Peretz, just like Ehud Barak’s Yossi Sarid, were equally wrong choices, even though they were political opposites.
Fortunately, the Likud has an ideal candidate for education minister – Yuval Steinitz. The respected philosophy PhD has shown he can study complex issues and impact them, the way he did as energy minister with the mining regulation of Israeli gas fields. Add to that his experience as finance minister and his intimate acquaintance with the higher-education system, and you get a sound candidate for education minister.
Still, these ordinarily important ministries should this time around be less important than transport, justice, and interior, because the broad government will be able to deliver through these agencies historic change.
TRANSPORT MINISTER should be Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon.
The mass transit revolution the new government will be able to deliver will demand all the virtues Ya’alon commands – namely, leadership, curiosity, balance, poise, the willingness to listen and the ability to decide.
With the backing of a broad government, Ya’alon could create and begin to execute a 10-year plan that would complete all of Israel’s mass transit projects, much the way he led the IDF to victory in last decade’s war of terrorism.
The Interior Ministry should go to the Likud, and within it to Gideon Sa’ar, so he will create the civil marriage legislation and bureaucracy that our semi-Jewish population craves, and our Jewish values demand.
Lastly, and most elusively, will come the justice minister, whose task will be to create the constitutional convention that will redefine the High Court’s authority and rewrite the rules of legislating Basic Laws.
Like this varied forum of jurists, academics, retired politicians, and rabbis, this minister will have to come from above the political fray. At the same time, he will have to be politically experienced, or he will not know how to get this tough task done. That is why this minister should be Michael Eitan.
Now 75, the man who during 28 years in politics was a lawmaker, minister and chairman of the Knesset Law Committee is a right-wing ideologue, but also an honest liberal who enjoys the Left’s respect. He could get this task done while repairing our damaged consensus.
Chances that any of this will happen are, of course, low. It is, however, what the national interest begs.