Think About It: Damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t

In 2015, 35 construction workers were killed on building sites where very few if any safety precautions were taken.

A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Wednesday the chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, MK Eli Elalouf (Kulanu) published an article in which he described a visit by several members of his committee, and representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Industry at a construction site in Petah Tikva where an Arab worker had been killed.
The visit had not been coordinated in advance. No one asked the uninvited visitors what they were doing on the site. At first no one was able to point out the foreman to them. Random workers they spoke to told them that they had received no safety instruction before starting to work, while the foreman (after he was located) admitted that he didn’t know the identity of the workers on the site that day.
In 2015, 35 construction workers were killed on building sites where very few if any safety precautions were taken. The ministry responsible for enforcing the safety regulations on building sites is the Economy Ministry, which employs 17 inspectors, who have at their disposal five vehicles to inspect over 15,000 building sites around the country. In 2015 these inspectors carried out 6,325 inspections. It has been announced that in 2016 the number of inspections will go down to 5,020 due to manpower shortages.
I suspect that if the 35 workers had been Jews someone would have acted by now. But almost all of them were non-Jews – Israeli Arabs, Palestinians from the territories, Chinese and other foreigners. Well, perhaps not. In 2015, 357 people were killed in Israel in traffic accidents – most of them Jews, and nobody in the government seems to give a damn. Apparently you have to be a Jew killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack for anyone to get really worked up – but even after 33 have been killed in the recent terrorist wave, the government doesn’t seem to have an inkling of an idea how to stop it, except for using force, and if force doesn’t work using more force.
But to return to the 35 workers. Who is the minister responsible? Well, there is no economy minister, just an acting minister – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is apparently too busy sympathizing with his Republican allies in the US and trying to figure out what he should do if Donald Trump is elected next American president, and pondering the true significance of the recent elections in Iran (in which the reformists made a good showing), to worry about safety regulations on building sites.
The Communications Ministry is also suffering from the absence of a full-time minister (Netanyahu is the acting minister), resulting in the chronic problems of the Israeli postal services not being resolved, and the establishment of a new broadcasting authority being continuously delayed, thus leaving the remaining employees of the old one in a state of limbo.
However, the worst situation concerns the Foreign Ministry, which is rapidly disintegrating under deputy minister Tzipi Hotovely, whose main concern seems to be how to explain to the ignorant gentiles that Israel has a kushan (deed) from God to the whole of the land of Israel, and that therefore talking about an Israeli occupation in the territories is simply nonsense.
Again, the acting minister is Netanyahu, whose decision making in the field of Israel’s foreign affairs seems erratic at best, with many issues being left untreated, while others are dealt with via remote control.
And speaking of ministries in the current government that are neglected because they are not headed by a fulltime minister – there is the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
How many readers know the identity of the Diaspora affairs minister? Well, it is Naftali Bennett – not exactly the right person to deal with the problem of the growing alienation of the majority of American Jewry (especially the younger generation, and traditional Democratic voters), for whom Bennett and the ideology he represents are the problem, not the solution.
Who is nevertheless trying to do something about the problem of the alienation of American Jewry? Believe it or not, it is Netanyahu, who insisted on a solution being found for the prayer of Reform and Conservative Jews, as well as the Women of the Wall.
Will he manage to stand up to all the threats from both haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and national religious rabbis and politicians who are currently up in arms about this arrangement, or will it end up being another sellout? As a liberal social-democrat I am no longer sure whether I am more concerned about what the government isn’t doing or what it is doing. Among the active ministers of whose activities I approve wholeheartedly are Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. Among the ministers I wish were a little less active in attacking the values I believe in are Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev – all honorable persons, just fulfilling the promises they made to their voters.
Nevertheless, I wish Prime Minister Netanyahu would stop acting as if very soon he was going to add another party to his government (not much chance of that happening), and appoint full-time ministers to all the ministries that are currently headless. While he is at it, despite the political constraints, perhaps he could try to do a better job of matching ministers to ministries, in order to minimize the damage being caused to Israeli society (especially that part of it that is neither religious nor right-wing) by over-zealous reformers in his government.
Of course, it would also help if Netanyahu concentrated less thought and energy on his political survival and more on trying to optimize his government’s performance (even on controversial issues). We are also still waiting for the price of housing to go down.
It is tempting to compare what is going on in Netanyahu’s current government with the only previous wholly right-wing-religious government – the narrow Shamir government formed in June 1990.
This government was made up of the Likud, the Party for Advancing the Zionist Idea (made up of a group of Liberals, headed by Yitzhak Moda’i, who broke away from the Likud), the National Religious Party (that was much less radical than the current Bayit Yehudi), the haredi parties and three extreme right-wing parties: Moledet (headed by Rehavam Ze’evi, with two Knesset seats), Tsomet (headed by Raphael Eitan, with two seats) and Tehia (headed by Professor Yuval Ne’eman with three seats).
Surprisingly this government, despite its make-up, had some important achievements in the peace-making and human rights spheres.
First of all there was the Madrid Conference, in which Shamir participated under protest, but which led to a major improvement in Israel’s foreign affairs, involving the establishment of diplomatic relations with many countries (including China and India) with which Israel had not previously had such relations, and the almost total disappearance of the Arab Boycott, which had certainly had a major negative effect on Israel’s foreign trade and economic development.
It should be noted that as deputy minister for foreign affairs (under David Levy), Netanyahu served as Israel’s main spokesman at the Madrid Conference.
In addition, during the short tenure of this government the Knesset passed two important Basic Laws dealing with human rights.
The current government seems intent on destroying these achievements of Shamir’s last government, which was followed by Rabin’s second government, and the Oslo Accords.
What will follow Netanyahu’s fourth government – the deluge? The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.