Kosher Cronyism?

Corruption is already widespread in Israeli politics. Amending the Appointments Law would brazenly endorse it as a fact of Israeli life. The Knesset would be wise to strike the amendment down in preliminary reading.

Ami Ayalon
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Ami Ayalon

There have been eight Israeli finance ministers since 1992, and no less than 14 interior ministers have come and gone in the same period. Only thanks to the veteran public servants who stay on despite government reshuffles do we enjoy any semblance of public order. But that may not last.

If some lawmakers have their way, a slew of key posts - from Interior Ministry population registrar to Finance Ministry accountant-general, from supervisor of Capital Markets to the chief of the Council for Cable Television and Satellite Broadcasting - will no longer be filled by public tender. That would spell the end of tenure, and herald a new era of senior staffers being swapped along with cabinet ministers. There will be no hope of proper governance or policymaking. Political cronies may crow, but the rest of us will pay the price.

Israel's public administration is a hybrid of the American "presidential appointments" and British civil service. Most senior officials are chosen through tenders which guarantee tenure. But some posts are filled exclusively by personal appointees. Such "confidant jobs" are allowed in the bureau and directorates of the government ministries, at the minister's discretion.

Where does one draw the line? Wherever convenient, apparently. Since 1987, there have been no fewer than 20 citations against illicit political appointments in Israel.

The complainants - state comptrollers, civil service commissioners and attorneys general - fully expected politicians to rise to the challenge and put an end to the practice. But they have been disappointed time and again along with the entire public, at least those of us who have not been "taken care of" by a relative who happens to belong to the ruling party's central committee.

Now some Knesset members want to make the corruption kosher. Why? Not for the postings and perks, heaven forbid, but "to allow the elected government to implement policies it promised its electorate". Just like in America - except that according to the state comptroller, in Israel, where the practice is generally "banned", there are now four times as many political appointments as in the United States - 918 here, 228 over there.

But fear not. Those seeking to amend the Appointments Law - the honorable Sa'ar, Gamliel and Ardan - promise that in the future, government posts will still be staffed on the basis of merit: "A candidate will have to be found suitable to the job, in terms of education and experience."

How, exactly, this "suitability" will be measured remains unclear. A chat in the minister's office, perhaps? And what of the equal opportunities to which a democracy should strive? A member of a party, even of its central committee, can apply for public office. But he or she must never enjoy preferential treatment in getting the job. Not for nothing did Attorney General Menachem Mazuz come out so strongly against the proposed amendment, calling it "inconsistent with basic tenets of proper government and policymaking."

Corruption is already widespread in Israeli politics. Amending the Appointments Law would brazenly endorse it as a fact of Israeli life. The Knesset would be wise to strike the amendment down in preliminary reading.

Before casting their vote, lawmakers from the left and right alike should heed the state comptroller's words: "Political appointments in Israel are intended as rewards for cronies' past electoral support, on the principle of tit-for-tat or jobs-for-votes. We are witnessing chaos unleashed, when people do as they please and give no account. The fight against corruption is a fight of good against evil. The danger inherent to corruption is graver than any other danger, military or diplomatic, that our state faces."

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