A Government of the People – too many People

As I’ve gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve gotten to appreciate efficiency. I’m sure every country has its fun bureaucracy moments, but Israel is especially gleeful with its celebrating redundancy and uselessness. It’s really a culture that loves clutter and complicated rules – people here expect it. You’d think of all people that would see the problem with that attitude, it would be a professional management consultant and former special forces officer. Obviously, I missed something about Benjamin Netanyahu.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in July 2012
Netanyahu and Romney were briefly colleagues in a management consultancy firm. I’m still trying to figure out who learned more there. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Corruption isn’t a strictly defined term. It’s not just about money and bribes. It’s also about leveraging personal connections instead of leveraging one’s merit. Personal protection is a credo in contemporary Israel, evident more in this year’s coalition negotiations more than probably any in the past. Even after weeks of haggling, the continuing Prime Minister is still hellbent on rewarding loyalty than on the efficiency of government. Likud’s own members are protesting – why aren’t the higher ranked members of the party first in line for cabinet positions, instead of candidates who ranked lower? We will go from 30 ministers to 20, but only with 8 deputy ministers – that stat essentially unchanged from the last administration.

MK Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset on March,  2011. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Tzipi Hotovely is just one of the Likudniks frustrated by Bibi’s rewarding loyalty, or the “old guard.” (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

This isn’t the United States, a nation of 350 million people where a cabinet of 25 people is both necessary and affordable. Each ministry and deputy minister’s job is worth millions of shekels in salaries and budgets. But consider the last government: a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Strategic Affairs, a Minister of “Intelligence and Atomic Energy” – what the flying hell, Mr. Netanyahu?

In the 20th century, the United States merged its Department of War with the Department of the Navy to ensure a better flow of command and more efficient fight. It’s at this moment I hope Netanyahu’s total fabrication of new ministries is merely to reward loyalty and not to actually interfere with the planning of wars – what a nightmare for the chain of command.

Colonel, President and Scholar: Theodore Roosevelt
Only experts should be in charge of government ministries. Teddy Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Navy after having written the essential book on naval combat of his time: The Naval War of 1812. Of course, being that he kicked ass at anything he did, Teddy Roosevelt would have been qualified for every position in government, particularly the Ministry of Awesomeness.

These redundant ministries don’t have to be merged – they need to be purged. They are paper tigers with little purpose.

Maybe there is an argument that politicians aren’t qualified to have control over so many responsibilities that require professional expertise. Thus, we shouldn’t put nuclear policy, defense and general strategy under one umbrella where one feeble politician will have to juggle it all. Amir Peretz was nowhere near qualified to be Minister of Defense, nor was Avigdor Lieberman suited to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs . . .

Well, this only bolsters the argument for technocracy, where certified and qualified experts are hired to run the ministries of government according to their fields of expertise. Generals would always run the Ministry of Defense; economists would always lead the Ministry of Finance; environmental science majors would run the Environmental Protection and Science Development ministry (if Israel were ever clever enough to merge the two).

A lot of people want Israel to adopt Norway’s cabinet structure: if you become a minister, you resign from Parliament and someone else in your party takes your place. That doesn’t solve the issue of cronyism though. A cabinet of experts is better, something the American system encourages even if Presidents don’t always take advantage of it.

Yair Lapid isn’t an economist. Avigdor Lieberman isn’t a diplomat. But Rabbi Shai Piron is a teacher and qualified to lead the Education Ministry; Naftali Bennett is a hi-tech pro qualified to run the Ministry of Trade & Labor; Bibi Netanyahu should have the management consultancy skills to be Prime Minister (emphasis necessary). Consider this exercise over who actually leads ministries in 2013 to be a solid argument against the idea of politicized government offices in the future.

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Ambassadors, overseas volunteers and experts on different countries should be the top choices to run the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not party leaders. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Hopefully, the 2017 Israeli elections can build on the progress that Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett (and who knows who within Likud-Beytenu) who have managed to apply pressure to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this year. It’s a lesson worth learning.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.