Sherwin Pomerantz

Israel’s Cabinet: We Could Do Much Better

The new cabinet that Prime Minister Netanyahu presented to the Knesset on Thursday evening of last week makes me convinced, more than ever, that in this case, the American model of cabinet selection simply makes more sense.  That is, to simply find the best people in the country to handle the various responsibilities rather than parcel them out as political favors as part of coalition building.  Doing things as we do now has given us 22 cabinet ministers out of a parliament of 120, or 18% of the membership of the Knesset holding cabinet positions.  No other country in the world even comes close to that percentage.

Some examples of this crazy way of doing business include:

Danny Danon, with no background in either science or technology (his degrees are in international affairs and public policy) is now the Minister of Science, Technology and Space.  Israel, given its expertise as the second largest source of tech startups in the world after the U.S. certainly has enough skilled people in these disciplines to find someone more qualified to serve in this position.

Arye Deri, a former minister, who served 22 months in prison on corruption charges prior to his release in 2002, has neither commercial business experience nor any formal university training, and is the new Minister of Economy with responsibility for development of the Negev and Galilee regions as well.  In a country made up of dozens of experienced and qualified business people like serial entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, successful venture capitalists like Chemi Peres and Jonathan Medved, and even the outgoing Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett (who was a successful entrepreneur before he entered government), we certainly have a sufficient cadre of qualified people to do this job.  Why give it to someone who has basically no experience in the business world?

For Minister of Justice, Netanyahu selected Ayelet Shaked, a computer engineer with no experience in the legal profession.  While her youth and intelligence work in her favor, one would think that there are plenty of smart and savvy legal minds in this country who are significantly more qualified for the post than she.

Then there is Yariv Levin, the new Minister of Public Security and Tourism, whose professional training and experience has been the practice of law, hardly a prep course for minister in either of these fields of endeavor.

And the list goes on.  Of course, the Israeli electoral system and coalition politics is what acts as the dual catalyst for this mismatching of skills and responsibilities.  As long as the electoral system remains the same, the horse trading that is the hallmark of coalition building will result in these types of bad matches.  The only solution would seem to be changing the cabinet to the American model (or what some call the Norwegian model) where cabinet members are NOT members of the Knesset but are chosen from the general population for their expertise, background and experience.

The bottom line is that partisan politics should not dictate who runs government ministries.  Former U.S. president Calvin Coolidge said “I think the Senate ought to realize that I have to have about me those in whom I have confidence; and unless they find a real blemish on a man, I do not think they ought to make partisan politics out of appointments to the Cabinet.”

He was correct in that statement and it is as true for Israel as it was and remains for other democracies worldwide.  The governing principle should simply be let’s get the best person for the job and the politics be damned.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.