Thursday, April 9, 2009

One out of Four (Netanyahu’s Government): A Political Travesty

Last week, after over six weeks of wheeling and dealing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally presented his government to the Israeli parliament and its people. Yes, the 32nd Knesset has received its new list of ministers and including the Prime Minister there are 30 of them; essentially meaning one out of every four Knesset members are now a minister. The phenomenon of the Israeli “inflated” government has reached a dangerous precedence and blame cannot be placed solely on Netanyahu; as they say, “it takes two to tango,” and the line between positions being handed out as bribes (to join the government) and those that were forced upon Netanyahu as blackmail (with him desperately needing the Labor party) has become blurred.

While Netanyahu’s Likud party received 14 ministers, Lieberman’s Israel Home Party and the Labor Party faired well, each receiving 5 ministers. Lieberman was awarded the prestigious Foreign Department (no comment for now) and Labor party head Ehud Barak the Defense Ministry (no comment for now). Close behind the Sephardic Religious party, Shas, received 4 ministers, and their prize was the Ministry of Interior. Lastly, the small Jewish Home party received one minister, the “Ministry of Science.”

While it would be possible to write a long detailed report of the inherent problems of such an inflated government, I will only comment on some of my initial thoughts. Firstly, the apparent absurdity is how previous ministries were divided creating a multiplication of unnecessary departments. For example, the once Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport now has been divided into two departments, separating the education from the culture and sport.

One department being split into two is actually the good case. It seems that Israel will soon become a world capital of rapid development being that there are numerous departments dealing with industry, infrastructure, and social issues. There is the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, the Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety, the Ministry of the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the Ministry of Regional Development, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, the Ministry of National Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Housing and Construction.

Luckily, Israel has a fine medical infrastructure with the best hospitals and world-renowned doctors and therefore it seems that Netanyahu found it fine not to appoint a Minister of Health, choosing himself to be the minister. After much criticism, this ministry was appointed a Deputy Minister (let us not forget that there are 9 Deputy Ministers in this government). Multi-tasking is a strong point of Netanyahu. In addition to be the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, he also is in charge of Ministry of Pensioner Affairs and is the official Minister of Economic Strategy (which is separate from the Ministry of Finance). Is it only me who is confused?

While Israel received much attention with Tzipi Livni, a woman, almost taking the reins of the country, this in no way means that their politicians are “enlightened” members priding themselves in gender equality. There are only 2 women ministers out of the 30. It seems that the criteria to become a minister (for a large part at least) is to be a man who is looking for a beefed-up salary, and having no experience whatsoever in the ministry he is presiding over. Overall, there are 21 women out of the 120 Knesset members.

Lastly, Labor Party member Avishai Braverman, who was one of the most outspoken members against joining the current government abandoned his cohorts and moved to the camp of Ehud Barak. As a result, he too was awarded a newly formed ministry: the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Certainly, one of the persons suited best for fixing the economy will supervise the affairs of the Arab minority (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and approximately twenty percent of the total overall population). Being himself an academic, Braverman should realize the obvious implications of appointing someone from among the majority to take care of the minority. In any case, we see that women are not the only discriminated groups in Israel. Needless to say, there are no Arab ministers (there is one deputy minister); however, this is the norm in a country where 20 percent of the population are systematically excluded from the political system, even if they do vote and are represented in the Knesset.

Yes, sadly I write these words. It seems that such an inflated government, with many of the ministers being completely unprepared to serve their departments, will lead to higher levels of corruption and injustices which have over the years become the norm in Israeli society. Further, with such a multitude of ministries, how should we expect that any real progress be made on the economy, the peace process, and other pressing issues? If this is not a political travesty then what is.

Louis Fishman
April 9, 2009